Painting the town: Harrisburg Mural Fest a huge success

The second-ever Harrisburg Mural Fest was a big success, bringing together local residents to enjoy street art.

From the 14 murals painted by 15 artists over the course of 10 days to events like the mural bike tour and block party, Harrisburg residents showed their support for street art and the talented artists who came to the Capitol City.

 Painted by Anat Ronen, the mural at 263 Oliver Alley showcases a colorful rainbow of local children and demonstrates that love for one another transcends race.
Painted by Anat Ronen, the mural at 263 Oliver Alley showcases a colorful rainbow of local children and demonstrates that love for one another transcends race.

“Harrisburg is an incredible city, and our goal is to make it even more vibrant and beautiful through public art,” said Megan Caruso, co-founder of Sprocket Mural Works, an organization that runs the fest. “Harrisburg residents and sponsors have so much heart, and we are consistently humbled by their support. It would be impossible to create 14 new pieces of public art without them.”

Based on the themes of community, diversity, and nature, the murals that were painted are located primarily through the Third Street Corridor of the city, beginning near Chestnut Street and running north to Kelker Street in midtown.

“The placement of this year’s murals helps to add density of public art to downtown and midtown, creating Harrisburg’s first Mural Trail,” Caruso said. “We view the murals as an outdoor museum, where visitors and residents can be touched and uplifted by vibrant art as they move through the city.”

The 14 new murals complement the ones painted during the first festival in 2017. The two events and other coordinated efforts have helped beautify downtown and midtown to the tune of 40 new murals over the past few years.

“Murals are much more than a beautification project. Art has a transformative power to spark community, connections, and influence how people feel about their space,” said Caruso. “Our deepest hope is that our efforts will make residents feel uplifted and proud of our city.”

 Muralist Arthur Haywood’s mural at 416 Forster Street in Harrisburg celebrates the Harrisburg Mural Arts Fest’s theme of community, diversity, and environment. (Photo courtesy of Dan Davis Photography)
Muralist Arthur Haywood’s mural at 416 Forster Street in Harrisburg celebrates the Harrisburg Mural Arts Fest’s theme of community, diversity, and environment. (Photo courtesy of Dan Davis Photography)

The fest truly did embrace its theme, from the artists who came from around the United States to the murals that embrace the city’s and commonwealth’s assets.

“The artistic talent ranged from first-time muralists to regional and nationally-known muralists. Artists and themes — both reflecting diversity — were determined by carefully considering the city’s spaces,” Caruso said. “Mural artwork features a female African American astronaut, in addition to numerous depictions of multicultural women and actual Harrisburg children, influential musician Jimi Hendrix, wildlife integral to the nearby Kittatinny Ridge (Blue Mountain), Pennsylvania agriculture, and numerous abstract works, including one in which visitors contributed brushstrokes of their own.”

Additionally, the largest-scale mural, along the Capital Area Greenbelt, will challenge visitors to “rethink waste” with an environmental theme.

Although the Greenbelt mural is not within the city’s borders, it did draw plenty of attention by motorists passing by 100 S. Paxtang Avenue, which sits between Paxton and Derry streets, as the artist was plying his craft. (The Greenbelt mural is located on the wall near the highway tunnel that passes underneath the railroad line.)

“I’ve been getting plenty of complimentary remarks and people beeping their car horns as they pass by,” said the muralist whose artist moniker is Nathaniel. “The locals have been very supportive and even though the mural isn’t within the city limits, I have been feeling the love and support of the people of Harrisburg.”

The fest included a number of highly attended events during the 10-day program. There was two mural runs with Harrisburg Area Road Runners Club and The HBG Beer Runners, a community paint day, a colorful bike tour and a block party and celebration to close out the 2019 edition. 

“A community paint day invited attendees to paint their own creations on fabric which will later enhance blighted city properties,” added Caruso.

 Approximately 150 people participated in the colorful bike tour around the city to see murals painted in 2017 and during this year’s Harrisburg Mural Fest. The environmentally themed mural was painted by muralist Emily Ding. (Photo courtesy of Dan Davis Photography)
Approximately 150 people participated in the colorful bike tour around the city to see murals painted in 2017 and during this year’s Harrisburg Mural Fest. The environmentally themed mural was painted by muralist Emily Ding. (Photo courtesy of Dan Davis Photography)

The bike tour and closing block party and celebration, which were held on the same day, achieved new attendance records.

Approximately 150 bicyclists rode around the corridor to see murals painted in 2017 and this year and between 6,000 and 7,000 attendees packed State Street for the block party, which featured local bands, food trucks, the HBG Flea Pop-up Market and adult beverages from several local breweries.

Sponsored by Recycle Bicycle, the bike tour was manned by volunteers who guided the cyclists from mural to mural and provided background on each painting. Ross Willard, Chief Mechanical Officer, Recycle Bicycle, said attendance nearly doubled over the 2017 tour.

“Even though there was an organized bike club ride the next county over, that the last time we had 85 people here and knew that there are enough people who appreciate art in midtown,” Willard said. “We had a lady here from Berks, we had families from York but our core was people who just casually ride their bikes and are not in a bike club. For those folks, it was like, ‘Art, wow, I gotta see this!’”

 

 City residents enjoy the music and beautiful weather during the block party celebration on the last day of Harrisburg Mural Fest.
City residents enjoy the music and beautiful weather during the block party celebration on the last day of Harrisburg Mural Fest.

A perfect recipe of beautiful weather, a love of art and the block party helped cook up a large crowd for both events, according to Willard.

“This is beautiful. I hear music playing down the street, the food trucks are here and there is art being made today and there was art being made all week long,” Willard said, “and I get to tool around the city without having a steel, glass enclosure, because I am on a bicycle, and get to see how we beautified the city.”

Caruso concurred with Willard on the overall success of both events as well as the entire fest.

“The outpouring of support, energy, and enthusiasm for the murals was overwhelming — from the community, sponsors, volunteers and visitors alike!” Caruso said. “The community spirit was amazing. The Block Party shut down several blocks of State Street in the shadow of the state capitol building, and featured live stage performances, all of our community sponsors, incredible talented vendors with the Harrisburg Flea, an entire block of food trucks — and lots of foot and bike traffic throughout town with people from near and far, visiting murals. The spirit of the event truly embodied our mission of uplifting Harrisburg through art.”

Given the success of the past two mural fests, there are tentative plans to bring it back in 2021, according to Caruso.

Meaning there will be even more murals on the horizon for Harrisburg residents to experience and enjoy.