EPB-led community mural project brings 'Voices of MLK' to downtown Chattanooga

Photo contributed by Taylor Ware / Artist Ann Jackson is one of the 12 artists selected for this year’s EPB-led community mural project.
Photo contributed by Taylor Ware / Artist Ann Jackson is one of the 12 artists selected for this year’s EPB-led community mural project.

In its heyday, Chattanooga's Ninth Street - now Martin Luther King Boulevard - rivaled the likes of Memphis's Beale Street and New Orleans's Bourbon Street, producing many famous artists including Bessie Smith, Rick Upshaw, Frazier Benefield and Tiny Kennedy, among others.

EPB is continuing to honor that history through its 10th Street Community Mural Project, inviting local artists to paint murals along its substation wall at 10th and Foster Street. This is the second year of the four-year project.

"It's so important to always share the rich arts and cultural history of the MLK neighborhood and the 'Big 9,'" says James McKissic, president of ArtsBuild, the organization which partnered with EPB to help support the selected artists. "I'm thrilled to see this next round of artists who are bringing so much vibrancy to the MLK neighborhood with their talents."

Artists were required to submit a portfolio of work, along with a statement that discussed their vision for their mural, says Elizabeth Hammitt, EPB director of environmental stewardship and residential energy solutions. But they were not required to have a background in mural design. Twelve were chosen - all women or minorities, and some first-time mural artists.

See the murals

The murals are scheduled to be complete by the end of May. A celebration of the project will happen just ahead of Juneteenth, observed each year on June 19.

Here, five of those artists share their vision.

Laura Dahlke 

When she first heard about the theme, "Voices of MLK," Dahlke couldn't help but think of young adult Black men. "I feel they are underrepresented in art, and their voices are often unheard," says Dahlke. "My image [is of] strong, honest, well-rounded, responsible young guys; individuals that other young men could look up to."

Karen Estes

The inspirations for Estes' mural are Fannie Crumsey, Opal Jackson, Katherine Johnson, Viola (Ellison) Johnson and Lela Mae Evans - the five Black women who were shot at by Ku Klux Klan-affiliated white men along Martin Luther King Boulevard in 1980. The women survived, and after the men were acquitted in court, they took the case to federal civil court - and won, setting a precedent for how the courts handled racial violence. "This is my humble attempt to shine a light on strong women who inspire me and others to do the next hard, right thing," says Estes.

Dannita Noble

Noble is a self-taught artist, mother of two and medical assistant. "I am honored to be able to have my artistic imprint in downtown Chattanooga, especially for Dr. Martin Luther King, in what he fought for," she says. "I feel as if this is my 'thank you' to him and others like him, for I may not have had opportunities like this [without them]."

La-tesia Poole

Poole is a multidisciplinary artist. Her vision is to "show my unique form of what I think beauty is and can be, from the lines, the curves and the design. We as Black women don't often get our flowers. This is me giving us our beauty and flowers for all to see!"

Rea Shaw

Shaw was inspired by the Dr. Martin Luther King quote, "Now, what does all of this mean in this great period of history? It means that we've got to stay together. We've got to stay together and maintain unity." She says that when people see her mural, she wants them "to see that when a community is collectively passionate, whether it is about the same subject or not, there is unity, and in turn, a shared love."

Other artists include Sara Tolbert, Nathaniel (Nat) Stepney, Mimi McCallister, Ty Swint, Ann Jackson, Madison Myers and Jerome Foster.

EPB will take artist submissions for the third installment of the community project in late 2022.

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