Buncombe Announces Mural Winners - TribPapers

Buncombe Announces Mural Winners

Can Buncombe County's mural project generate a masterpiece like Michael Rosato's Harriet Tubman mural? Screenshot from michaelrosato.com, used with permission.

Asheville – Dull building exteriors in Buncombe County are going to get a facelift through the Equity Mural Project. This is a pilot program designed to beautify public spaces while fostering “a culture of diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging.”

There is widespread opinion that mural art brings down property values. It lacks the sophistication of the clean architectural edge of stone and steel. Regardless of the legitimate commission underwriting it, it often looks no better than graffiti, so it’s believed to send the message, “We don’t respect our property, so you shouldn’t either.”

Maybe things will be different in Asheville. Can one of the selected artists convey as inspiring a message of liberation as Michael Rosato did with his famous Harriet Tubman mural?

One of three winners who gets a wall to paint is Jared Wheatley. He’s up to painting the College Street Parking Deck with a geometric design that would be an artisan enhancement and not garish at all. He describes the patterns as a “communal basket concept,” and they are part of his Indigenous Walls Project.

Through the project, he works with members of the Eastern Band of Cherokee to foster a sense of inclusion, and so he tries to keep things simple. Last year, he said his project had commitments to paint 250,000 square feet of walls in Asheville.

Another winner, Leslie Reynalte-Llanco, has been assigned the huge retaining wall on Hilliard Avenue. She’s a young graphic designer and illustrator whose genre is defined by simplicity and bold colors. Her mural is described as a Latin pride design. It would consist of a diverse collection of cartoon Latino faces answering the question “What do I want to be?” in their native tongue.

Reynalte-Llanco’s business is Sketchonic, and she will be working with muralists Kathryn Crawford and Gus Cutty. The project is funded by ArtsAVL (formerly the Asheville Area Arts Council).

Winning the honor of painting the Register of Deeds office will be Gabriel Eng-Goetz. He’s a high-profile Durham artist who creates in diverse media, from album covers to murals. His style is much like that of modern graffiti artists, with swirls of bright color depicting flora and fauna and themes ranging from the macabre to the innocence of childhood.

Eng-Goetz’ portfolio was strong enough to get him the gig with Asheville even though the design has yet to be conceived through a collaborative community effort. Part of the project will include the mentoring of an apprentice.

The winners were selected from among 21 submissions by a panel of twelve. Selection criteria required that the work “reflect systemic racism and themes of hope, resolution, redemption, reconciliation, and/or restoration.” It also had to “have a positive impact.”

The project will be bankrolled in part with $98,217 from $153,438 received via the Local Assistance and Tribal Consistency Fund. The fund was part of a $1.5 billion pot set aside by Congress under the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA). Proceeds may be used “for any governmental purpose other than a lobbying activity.”

In Other Matters

Last week, Asheville City Council committed to investing in the capital improvements Major League Baseball (MLB) now requires for Minor League stadiums. Failure to do so has caused other host cities to lose their teams. The City of Asheville owns McCormick Field, and so it made the decision to commit and then seek partners.

The full project is expected to cost $37.5 million. Since the city will finance it with debt, the total project cost, with interest, will be $56.142 million. The city has committed to contributing $19 million over 20 years, and the Tourists have committed to paying rents totaling $9.375 million over the same period. Only Commissioner Jasmine Beach-Ferrara would vote against the county picking up another $5 million.

Brian DeWine, president of the Asheville Tourists, shared that, if funding falls short, the team could add a facilities charge to tickets. They didn’t want to do this because right now tickets are an even $10 each.

The city has also lobbied the state legislature to put up funds, but any legislation would pay the same amount to all municipalities trying to keep their stadiums, and that amount remains undetermined. Another partner would be the Tourist Development Authority. The TDA has not yet voted on the matter, but the city is applying for the maximum annual allocation allowed by law, which is currently about $1.4 million, over 15 years.

Chair Brownie Newman was willing to make the payment, but he needed assurances. Economic Development and Government Relations Director Tim Love said the Tourists intend to sign a lease for at least 20 years, and both the Houston Astros and MLB have commitments to their minor league teams that run through 2030.

Any sale or relocation of the teams would require the approval of MLB, whose decision would be based on the condition of the facility and the market. The former spoke for itself, and Love was of the opinion that MLB was very interested in having a team in the Asheville market. He added that for extra security, MLB recommended including a no relocation clause in the contract between the Tourists and the city.

An appendix to Love’s presentation listed the deficits with the current stadium. These were mostly concerned with square footage and equipment for various behind-the-scenes activities. These included a need for more lockers, toilets, showers, and ice machines; two full-body whirlpools for the visiting team; better laundry facilities; compliance with local standards for kitchen cleanliness and sanitation; more storage area; and larger pitching/hitting tunnels. Only one bullet point pertained to the condition of the field.