Wall-Art Revitalizes Downtown
by John Robinson, Director of Tourism
I like pictures. Other folks do, too. After all, pictures are efficient; few of us have the patience anymore to stop and admire a thousand words.
Everywhere you look, Missouri main streets capitalize on this fact, offering local variations of a giant photo album theme. Splayed across big brick building walls, murals tell a visual CliffsNotes version of a town’s history. Writers and historians cut jagged swaths across the state map to observe these murals and make reports. Disciples follow, to Cuba, Chillicothe and Mountain View. And so far, in my detours, every mural has been worth the trip.
One recently completed mural project stands tall, as much for the story as for the paintings themselves.
A few years back, a pack of prescient people persevered to transform an ugly-but-functional floodwall into a masterpiece. The town advertised for artists to compete for the project. While other artists attempted to win Cape’s favor by boasting of their prowess and finesse, a visionary painter named Thomas took a different approach, asking the townspeople, “Who are your characters? What is your history?” The town courted Tom and Tom courted the town, and they struck a relationship that penetrated deeper than a coat of paint.
The murals spawned magic. A town coalesced around its heritage.
Whether you believe it takes a family or a village, or both, one thing is for sure: It takes a lot of pluck to pick up the scattered spirits of proud downtowns, punished by neglect and desertion. The people of Cape Girardeau embraced their history, their downtown – and each other – in smacking an artistic grand slam over a twelve-foot gray floodwall. Now, a renaissance permeates downtown Cape Girardeau.
You should see it. When you do, you’ll join hundreds of visitors who come downtown every day to admire the paintings, shop the shops and eat in the cafes. On a recent visit, I found a great way to view the murals. Sit at a front table at Port Cape Restaurant, where the only thing between you and the big picture window overlooking the murals is a band of musicians playing while Thomas Melvin dances up a storm with the locals. They love him. He loves Cape.
Cape is lucky. But as Tom’s priceless floodwall vignettes illustrate, the people of Cape Girardeau always have had a hand in producing their own good luck.
Many people carry two common traits: We’re self-anointed art critics, and we root for the resurgence of real American downtowns. That’s why I’ll always appreciate Wall-Art, because Wall-Art celebrates local places. Always.