Soon, the bare bricks of the downtown Parkersburg area will be brought to life with the broad brushstrokes reflecting a community purpose, cause, and effort. Parkersburg placemaking swung into full gear at The GoodSpace Murals and Lunch on June 30. Community members from across the town gathered to listen to local music and share ideas concerning the GoodSpace Murals that will eventually splash across the sides of The Art Center and The Actors Guild. 

The project is a result of The Downtown Arts Collaborative – a series of arts groups in the Mid-Ohio Valley that is housed under WVU Parkersburg. For President Chris Gilmer, the arts are an important part of the community and one that he is hopeful to see expand throughout the Mid-Ohio Valley.

“Community is the most important word in ‘Community College.’ We have to be of and for the community we serve and it’s an honor to be. We can’t be a hidden gem or an underused resource, it’s our responsibility to step forward and not only feed the workforce development needs, but also the mission oriented service,” President Gilmer said. 

Greta McLain is the muralist bringing this opportunity to the community. She is the owner and artistic director of GoodSpace murals which has completed placemaking pieces all across the United States. Great painted her first mural at nine years old. After that, she decided that painting with her friends and bringing people together through art was the only thing that she wanted to do. After studying it in college, she formed a career by using it to create positive social change through GoodSpace. 

“So I think it’s really important for us to feel like we have power in our communities and power in the direction that things are going. One of the things that I hear about, about shifts and the possibility or the threat of gentrification, is people feel like the development in the direction of their communities is out of their hands,” McLain said. “So there’s something really powerful about inviting everybody in and saying, ‘I want us all; we’re all going to paint together, we’re all going to talk together. Your voice is just as important as this other person’s voice and it is just important as this other person’s. We cannot be a community unless we’re all together, and then a mural can represent the power of the collective, and it can also show who actually lives here and be a way for people to feel like they’re telling their own stories.”

McLain developed three questions that she asked the community to answer while they were at the event:

  • What do you love about Parkersburg?
  • What are you dreams/hopes for the future of Parkersburg? What would you like to see happen here?
  • What would you like to change about Parkersburg?

McLain developed these questions with Senta Goudy of WVU Parkersburg and Jessie Siefert of The Parkersburg Art Center. The team hoped that the questions would be simple enough to get straightforward answers, but profound enough to signal true feelings. The goal was to create a definition, a problem, and a solution from the answers to these questions.

“So the definition is what we love about Parkersburg and what Parkersburg is now. Then the challenge would be like, ‘what do we want to change?’ So then people can look around and do something that unites us: being able to critique our home, and not having somebody else critique our home. When we critique our own home, we’re saying we’re going to change,” McLain said. 

The murals will be a completely community drive project down to the painting and installation. McLain believes in the power of communities coming together to complete these projects.

“We’re using an indirect mural technique called ‘the parachute cloth technique.’ And what we do is invite everyone to paint on as synthetic canvas, and then once it’s painted, we actually glue it up on the wall with a matte medium. So it’s kind of like paint on paint on paint, but it will get installed like permanent wallpaper. Then, we paint over the seams and we seal it, and at the end of the day it will have the appearance of being painted directly on the wall,” McLain said. 

In placemaking, the design of public spaces hinges heavily on the use of local assets and talent to create spaces that feel like they belong to the community, often promoting health and well-being.

“It is a visual representation of the intangible and the tangible world that is around us and they’re things that people can unite around, and share a common vision around and this one is going to be especially important because it’s going to be one that’s not done for the community, it’s going to be one that is done by us. And we’re all more invested in the things that we feel like we own and participate in,” President Gilmer said.

Downtown PKB, another organization working toward creating intentional spaces in the Parkersburg area through strategic initiatives, is focusing on creating more public art in the downtown space. 

“Anytime there’s a project like this, we want to be involved in helping them get the word out about it or helping them to try and fundraise for it whenever we can. This is activating the space and creating uniqueness. We see people down here all the time with our selfie stations interacting –  guests from the hotel (The Blennerhassett) will come out and stand in front of that big banner over there and get their photo taken. It’s a placemaking activity, but it’s bringing back life,” Downtown PKB Executive Director Wendy Shriver said. 

The project is slated to begin painting soon with the final installation happening with an anticipated finishing date of three months. For those interested in participating in the process, the Arts Collaborative of the Mid-Ohio Valley’s Facebook page will have the most up-to-date information.