Muralist Meg Saligman thinks big. Her largest mural, in Omaha, Neb., is 32,500 square feet.
So the one currently being planned for downtown Chattanooga, at an estimated 5,000 square feet, is downright dainty by comparison—yet will easily be large enough to become an icon of the downtown scene, according to Peggy Townsend, director of Public Art Chattanooga. “This mural will bring the city something we’ve never seen,” she said. “Not just in its scale, but in working with an artist of Meg’s caliber for this project.”
Saligman’s bio is impressive. She was featured in the 2006 Public Art Review as one of 10 muralists throughout the country who have been influential in the past decade, and has received awards and honors from the National Endowment for the Arts, the Mid-Atlantic Arts Foundation, the Pennsylvania Council on the Arts and Philadelphia’s Leeway Foundation.
Her process—one of community collaboration and participation—is a natural fit with Chattanooga’s recent history of citizen involvement, Saligman said in a recent phone interview. “When I came into Chattanooga [for the original project discussions in December], the project took on a life of its own,” she said.
“People in Chattanooga are very used to standing up and being counted. They are proud about contributing to the community as a whole. That’s unique,” she said. During her first visit, Saligman met with as many as 500 people, according to a recent news report.
The mural’s location has yet to be finally determined, though “three or four sites” are in serious consideration, Townsend said. “Each of them presents its own opportunities and challenges, but all of them would provide wide visibility for the mural.”
Saligman’s work is primarily figurative, often featuring actual local people, and she expects to continue that focus in the downtown project. “People do define a city and a county … they show up in the work almost all the time,” she said. Her media includes paint, light and glass, and her press materials note that she “seeks to create public art that reflects upon and advances the interactive era, integrating traditional painting techniques with LED light, glass, and projection.”
Yet the process leading up to actually creating the mural is at least as important as the creation itself, Saligman said. The project is on a year’s timeline, with additional public meetings, followed by analysis of the input, scheduled.
Actual construction will likely not begin until spring 2013, according to Saligman. That’s helpful in the fundraising process, Townsend noted. The mural is being paid for by a combination of private funding and assistance from the Chattanooga Parks and Recreation department.
“We received a significant grant from the Lyndhurst Foundation,” Townsend said, “and we will continue to raise funds from the private sector.”
This yearlong process will also pull in local volunteers, and in some cases, paid assistance.
“We’re already working with [well-known local muralist] Shaun LaRose,” Saligman said, “and we will definitely use paid staff from the community. It takes a huge range of skills to execute a project of this kind. ”
Another ongoing goal for the artist in all her projects is to bring in “tools with a vision,” educating local mural workers on her techniques, which can then be replicated in other mural work in the future. “By drawing from the local talent pool and working with them, Meg will pass along her skills to them,” said Townsend.
The December public discussions led to suggestions of additional “satellite” murals in other sites around the city, said Saligman—but the focus will stay on the downtown project for now.
“We’re looking forward to a work of art that’s not only enjoyed by local people, but will bring people into Chattanooga,” Townsend said.