A portrait of a triumphant community beams from both sides of the Wilcox Tunnel — a choice by the artists who painted the mural to showcase the potential in Eastdale and East Chattanooga.
Lead artist Greta McClain, founder of the Minneapolis-based GoodSpace Murals, had heard about crime in the neighborhoods from her early prep work at community meetings. But McClain wanted to highlight the community's strengths.
She calls the mural "See Me Shine." She met with residents this week to see the finished product. Its official unveiling is scheduled June 3.
The mural showcases a thriving community where men remain with their families and boys read books while girls wear superhero capes and jump rope wearing butterfly wings.
"You put your focus on where you want to go," said McClain. "When people see these youth depicted in this way, how does the power of that shift in perception? How could that make a larger impact? How could this shift how they see themselves and how the city sees them?"
"It's gorgeous," said Tina Monje, one of three assistants to McClain.
GoodSpace recruited local artists Mercedes Llanos, Alex Paul Loza, Kristen Ton and Payton Hayman to help create and install the mural on both entrances to the tunnel, which connects the East Chattanooga and Eastdale neighborhoods.
Some 14,356 vehicles pass through the tunnel each day, according to the Tennessee Department of Transportation. The artists want all those drivers and passengers to see the mural and the community it portrays.
"It's going to upgrade our neighborhood," said Gloria McClendon, president of the Foxwood Heights Neighborhood Association on the Eastdale side of the tunnel.
Artist Eamonn McClain, Greta McClain's brother, described it originally as a "dark tunnel" that didn't bring people together, nor show the joining of two neighborhoods. Now portraits and abstract designs in bright, fun-house colors greet drivers approaching the passage — with teal paint framing the structure on the east end and lavender trim on the west. Either approach gives a sense of wonder and allure.
"That's the potential that this piece brings to beautifying this particular area," he said.
The Eastdale Neighborhood Association landed the $75,000 grant that funded the mural project. The Footprint Foundation, the Benwood Foundation and the city of Chattanooga contributed money for it.
McClain and her crew started legwork on the mural in July 2017. They hosted community paint parties that allowed residents to paint different parts of the murals.
Besides her brother and Monje, her core group of artists also included Candida Gonzalez and Samie Johnson.
The artists met with residents and asked how they saw the community and what they'd like to see depicted on a mural. Then they took photos of elementary and middle-school students at the Eastdale Youth and Family Development Center and used their portraits in the mural.
The Eastdale side of the mural showcases the self-assured smile of a boy reading a book while sporting a shirt that reads "Be You." The mural shows hope on the faces of the girls painted across from it. The mural shows them doing handstands and jumping rope.
One of the girls shown jumping rope is a survivor of the November 2016 Woodmore bus crash that killed six children.
The Wilcox side of the mural includes a family, a woman and man cuddling a baby, and there are large hands holding the community.
A red, gold and green African blanket and a gold web pictured on both sides of the mural symbolize the protection from grandparents and family that holds the community together.
Eastdale Youth and Family Development Center facility manager Dank Hawkins was so pleased with McClain's work that he started calling friends while standing in front of it to tell them about it.
He doesn't know all of their names, but every child on the mural is from the Eastdale center, he said. One he recognized is Kori Atkins, who's painted on the East Chattanooga side wearing a superhero cape.
"This goes hand in hand in lifting up the community," said Hawkins.
Contact Yolanda Putman at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6431.