What Happened To The Downtown Mural Project?
A project meant to "art - ify" Springfield's city center may have hit a dead-end. The effort to add more murals kicked off a couple years ago. Now there's only a single incomplete one to show for it. The question remains if Springfield will join other cities in Illinois, and across the country, that can boast their downtowns as places where public art is highlighted.
In June of 2013, Springfield's city council voted unanimously to help pay for large outdoor paintings on downtown buildings. It was an initiative of Downtown Springfield Inc. - a nonprofit that works to drive traffic to the area through art and cultural events and historic preservation. Victoria Ringer is the director. “I kept thinking, well if Lincoln and Pontiac and Jacksonville and Danville can do it, why can't we? We're so political on every level on everything - that whole thing about how no good deed goes unpunished, it's just really not easy to get things done," she says.
Ringer says the one mural that is nearly completed was funded by AAA Auto Insurance. It was meant to show the potential of the project. The mural is of a young Abraham Lincoln, highlighting his days as a land surveyor.
Mike Mayosky is the artist. He lives in Springfield and says he's painted several hundred murals across the country. “One of the key, old-school ways of telling a story is murals, it's one of the oldest arts in man's existence, is painting a wall and leaving it behind for generations. When I paint a wall, I'm not thinking about two weeks. I'm thinking about 50 years, 100 years," says Mayosky.
The wall with the Lincoln mural is on the side of the bar & restaurant known as The Alamo, located on North 5th St. in the shadow of the Old State Capitol. Mayosky says he got through most of the project, which was expected to take 90 days. But then, on day 72, he says he was working in the early morning hours when an employee of The Alamo called police. "They had me arrested for trespassing because they decided to change the rules that I wasn't allowed to paint at night anymore. And there were many reasons why I would paint at night - during the day it was too hot. These paints were very expensive and very specific about temperature ranges," says Mayosky.
Now, it's not clear if the mural will ever be completed, says Ringer: “It was a long term disagreement, where we (DSI & the owner of The Alamo) had offered many opportunities to Mr. Mayosky to finish, and he just wasn't showing up ... we were just like, 'We can't keep going like this.' So we just had to cut it off and say, 'We're done.'”
Meanwhile, DSI has some plans in the works for another mural or similar project. So far though, the funding isn't there. Originally, the city had designated $50,000 in tax increment financing (TIF) dollars that would match those coming from money DSI raised through other sponsors. But last year, DSI almost went bankrupt. The city says it'll help with funding for a limited time as a result, but by deferring money that had been meant for the murals. Springfield Mayor Mike Houston explains: “They have not had any movement in the murals. We had designated $50,000 for that, I would anticipate we would use that for other services.” Houston says $10,000 of that money was already used during the holiday season to help fund promotions and events, like the local shop walk and the Santa house.
Houston, who is a former Downtown Springfield Inc. president, says, “I have always personally felt that the organization should be a membership organization that is supported by itself, as opposed to receiving funding from the city or any other governmental body.” Ringer says there's still hope for more public art projects, though it probably won't pan out how she had hoped when the “ARTIFICATION” project kicked off a couple years ago. “Let's say we get a sponsor for $7,500 - we'll do a smaller mural and have them do it and not use TIF money - we are constantly looking for locations, artists, paint sponsors, regardless if any public money is used at all," says Ringer.
And artist Michael Mayosky - who has yet another incomplete mural now on the train depot building across from the Sangamon County Building (which DSI has nothing to do with) says politics are to blame for halting public art. “Both these murals are on hold until some clear parameters are built about who owns the work," says Mayosky.
Mayosky says ultimately, he hopes more public art projects will create increased historic and artistic value to the city - which seems to be at least one thing he and the downtown organization can agree on.
The text of this story has been changed to clarify that while Mr. Mayosky has lived in Springfield for over a decade, he is not in fact a Springfield native.