In their efforts to enrich the downtown environment and boost the local economy, the Pittsburg Downtown Advisory Board (DAB) approved funds for local artist and Pittsburg State University alumna Jenna Spencer to paint four new murals on downtown businesses. Spencer will start the projects this spring.
“I was approached by the city about doing a downtown mural about a year ago and have been giving thought to it off and on while working on other projects,” Spencer said. “When SEK Art Fest did their Mural Grant Project in 2016, the community got more excited about the idea of having art around town.”
City of Pittsburg Community Development Specialist Brittan Brenner said the DAB recognizes the impact local art has on tourism and economic development and have always thought they should be a part of making these projects happen.
“Murals have been something that the DAB has talked about for years,” Brenner said. “They are well aware of the connection art has with economic development and have always felt inclined to play a part. When Jenna approached the DAB late last year, it seemed like the perfect opportunity to finally take a leap and get involved.”
The murals will feature interactive elements such as a bouquet of balloons, a tree with swings, a giant dandelion, and a Downtown Pittsburg, Kansas sign, which invite spectators to place themselves in the mural and have a picture taken.
“The interactive mural puts you in the art,” Spencer said. “Someone could take your picture while it looks like you are holding a bunch of balloons, blowing a wish on a dandelion, or swinging in a tree.”
These will not be the first murals in the area that Spencer has been consigned to do.
“I have seven murals in the Pittsburg Downtown area,” Spencer said. “The one at Fun Depot is four murals wrapped into one. Other locations are the Memorial Auditorium, First Baptist Church, West 5th Street, Chamber, and the Frisco. I also have a mural in Girard (Bender on 7) and in Joplin at Midwest Regional Ballet. I really don’t have an exact style of painting and most of my work doesn’t look like anything else that I’ve done. I usually cater to what my client wants in terms of subject matter and style.”
Spencer said she has worked with many of the local art associations, including, Art Forms Gallery, Pittsburg Art Walk, SEK Art Fest, Little Balkans Days, and the University Art Association. It takes a collective effort to get things like this done.
“Everyone works together to get events like an art show or a mural project off the ground,” Spencer said. “We have a great local group of artists that ‘spearhead’ our growing local art scene in Pittsburg.”
Spencer is waiting for confirmation on the locations of the murals. One confirmed location will be the north side of Strawberry Moon Boutique.
“I am waiting for a board to meet and approve one of them… and I am waiting for the owner of another building to get back to me,” Spencer said. “I should know in the next couple of weeks.”
Spencer said she had always wanted to go to school for fine arts.
“I started when I was right out of high school and went back to finish in my 30’s,” Spencer said. “I did concentrate in 3D art at PSU, but my main goal was to work with as many mediums and processes as possible while I had access to studios and teachers. I never thought of painting murals as my focus, but there is demand for it in our area right now. I also love doing subject matter that focuses on community and history. I’m sure at some point my focus will gear toward another medium in the future, but for now I am having a great time decorating Pittsburg, KS.”
Brenner said the city is interested in the creation of more opportunities like this one that bring art into the public spaces.
“We want to incorporate other aspects of art into this program, so we are taking our time to really think things out,” Brenner said. “If someone wanted to apply to create a sculpture alley or pop-up gallery, we want to be prepared to consider those requests and help those ideas come to fruition as well.”