The mural of a steelworker is displayed on 24 E. Third Street in South Bethlehem. The work is part of a larger effort by ArtsQuest and the SouthSide Arts District to add more art and vitality to the South Side community. (Isabel Kaplan/B&W Staff)

Lehigh, South Side residents contribute art to community mural project

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During Musikfest last year, the traveling art group Dripped on the Road led by Lehigh graduate Denton Burrows, ’11, painted a mural of a steelworker on the side of a building at 24 E. Third St.

Karen Beck-Pooley, a professor and director of Lehigh’s environmental policy design graduate program, is once again leading the collaborative project alongside ArtsQuest and SouthSide Arts District, which asks local artists and Lehigh students for cloth mural proposals to bring a new element of art to Bethlehem.

“The goal of murals is to make something that pays attention to the city, shows the talents and uniqueness of the artists involved and creates a conversation,” Burrows said. “Public art has the power to bring people together that might not otherwise congregate and it has the power, if even only for a brief moment, to uplift a person’s day with some color and texture, and deep thought.”

This year’s SouthSide Art’s District Mural Arts Project will also be displayed at Musikfest, where thousands of people will get to see the artwork and donate to fund next year’s competition.

The project was organized in the hopes of beautifying the area, improving life and creating better relationships between Bethlehem residents and Lehigh students.

Beck-Pooley said the inspiration behind the project came from the Wynwood Walls in Miami. Originally a way to transform the perceptions of its neighborhood, the Wynwood Walls not only brought a positive outlook to the area but also created a small park to celebrate art.

“We want to give opportunities to artists to gain exposure for their work but also diversify the designs we’re seeing in our neighborhood,” said Stacie Brennan, the senior director of Visual Arts at ArtsQuest.

The five or six 12-by-8-foot parachute cloth panels selected from the proposals will be displayed on the South Side Greenway and then showcased at various locations throughout town. Ultimately, the murals will reside on the sides of South Bethlehem buildings.

Artists are encouraged to submit applications to SouthSide Arts District by March 18, including a resume, proposed mural idea and outline, a detailed budget, five digital examples of their work and three references.

After artists submit their ideas, a panel will vote and determine which proposals are appropriate. Missy Hartney, the SouthSide Arts District manager, said the SouthSide Arts District works to avoid offending people with the art.

Beck-Pooley said Lehigh artists are encouraged to participate in these projects, whether it’s to shadow an artist or help coordinate the projects.

“Lehigh students should become more acclimated with their new home,” Hartney said. “This is their home for the next four or so years, so they should know what’s going on. We want you to come down. There are so many great things happening and there’s only more to come.”

Though it has not been determined which buildings will house murals, the selection process is underway.

As the project progresses, those involved anticipate it will help the South Side to come to life.

“The idea is to create an image for Bethlehem that is vibrant and fresh, so when you enter, it’s like you walked into an arts district,” Hartney said. “Over the next five years, you are going to see a lot more art projects and ways to brighten up the South Side. We are enriched in music and culture, and we want to invest in these things.”

Hartney said she hopes community members will contribute by creating more public and temporary art installations.

She said the SouthSide Art District’s future plans include developing a more bohemian vibe and inviting students to shops and establishments to show them what’s happening in their own neighborhood.

“We can’t change the world, we can’t reverse climate change or fix broken bridges, but murals can change the way that people feel about the place in which they live,” Beck-Pooley said. “We are trying to do a lot more for Bethlehem and this is just one of the ways to start.”

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