Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations
Local Newscast
Hear the latest from the WRKF/WWNO Newsroom.

Seeing a New City in a Blank Wall

Case Duckworth
The Walls Project's third mural, at Seventh and Convention Streets

The Walls Project is a Baton Rouge nonprofit that’s been painting about ten murals a year since 2012. Most of their artists’ work is downtown, though they’ve started expanding to Mid City and North Baton Rouge. Starting this month, they’ll offer biking and walking tours of their murals.

Downtown Baton Rouge has been a work in progress - which is why you hear lots of construction noise throughout the day - and Casey Phillips likes to think he’s had a hand in that progress.

"We decided to start in downtown specifically because we saw the opportunity to help something that was already happening," he says. "The movement back to the urban core of the city -- that's happening all across the state, that's happening all across the country, the resurgence of peoples downtown. I mean, we can get into the sociological reasons, I mean the post-GI bill, and the urban sprawl [...] you saw a necessity to have to reinvest and reinvigorate the downtown core."

To reinvigorate downtown, you need businesses - and business people. Back in his office, Phillips says they are just as interested in art as anyone else.

"A lot of engineers, a lot of lawyers, a lot of lobbyists - they have an appreciation for arts and culture but there's kind of that gap of how to - besides going to a gallery and buying, you know, a painting, which sometimes can be a very intimidating process if you don't have a formal training or background," he says. "You know, public art was a way for people who wanted to support the arts that they were able to invest in something that was very easily accessible to people and themselves."

"You saw a necessity to have to reinvest and reinvigorate the downtown core."

Phillips founded the Walls Project to make art more easily accessible in Baton Rouge. The Project began in 2012 with a Kickstarter campaign for a collection of murals on the corner of Florida and Fourth streets. We walked to the first mural in the shade of the McGlynn, Glisson and Mouton building, right across the street from two other murals, one on Harrington’s Cafe and the other on the Mentorship Academy.

"So this is our first one," Phillips says. "The first guy to say yes, right? The first guy in the business community to say yes."

The project exceeded its original Kickstarter goal, and it’s met its goal of completing about ten murals in Baton Rouge each year. But that doesn’t mean it’s been easy. Phillips says that finding all the blank walls for murals can be challenging, to say nothing about funding the artists.

"I don't care if people say no, because there'll be people that say yes," he says. "So we bang on doors and we ask them if they'll paint, and some people not only say yes, they're also like, 'You know what? We want to help fund this.' And then we go and procure some more sponsor dollars or we write grants or we find angels or, you know we go -- we go in our back yard with our money tree and we take some money off and we get the -- we make it happen."

The Walls project is not just about murals downtown, though. They’re working hard to make art available to tourists and locals who don’t have a car.

"I don’t have a driver’s license, and I bike everywhere," says Maya Curtis, who’s leading bike tours around the Walls murals starting this month.

"I think that’s a - kind of a situation for a lot of people in the city that don’t necessarily always have a car, or there’s one car per family. So, I think that that would help you know, revitalize downtown, to see more people walking, and not a mass exodus of like, the downtown," she says. "It kind of looks like there’s a zombie apocalypse like, when you come here at 4:30."

One of the bike tour’s stops will be at the third mural, taking up the entire back corner of the little park on Seventh and Convention streets. It’s a parade scene, full of people, tents, musicians, row houses, and downtown Baton Rouge. It’s a scene that’s familiar to Louisianans.

"This part of our culture in Louisiana, I mean, is like -- it's kind of the undeniable, you know, common denominator, so to speak," Phillips says. "The revelry level of Louisiana despite being, you know, forty-ninth or fiftieth in a lot of categories ... The celebratory nature of us as people."

It’s that celebratory nature that Phillips hopes will bring people together through art.