Sometimes, the best ideas can come from what initially appears to be nothing more than friendly conversation.
Neither Jeff Copus nor Megan Caruso put much stock into the idea of hosting a mural festival in Harrisburg the first time the two co-founders of Sprocket Mural Works discussed it.
It was 2016 and Copus and Caruso were painting public planters around the city of Harrisburg when the idea first came up.
“We said, ‘Wouldn’t it be great if we could do a mural festival, like, paint a whole bunch of murals at once?’” Copus said. “It was more like an idea, a dumb idea, rather than an actual thing that we had to plan for.”
As the notion was floated to their friends and colleagues and they liked it, a strange thing happened: the concept of hosting a mural festival began to get synergy, morphing from mere thought into something much bigger.
“That got us looking and asking, ‘What would we need to put this thing together?’” Copus recalled. “Walls, artists and funding are the three things that you really need.”
A mere 13 months later, the first-ever Harrisburg Mural Festival was held with the goal of creating 10 murals in 10 days.
Sprocket Mural Works not only achieved that goal, they shattered it, nearly doubling the number of planned street art creations around Harrisburg. Despite some rainy weather, 15 different street artists oversaw 18 works in just 10 days.
The festival featured local artists as well as those from around the globe, including an Ecuadorian woman named Vera Primavera whose mural at 213 Locust Street promotes female empowerment.
“Vera was really about empowerment for women and showing women of different cultures,” Copus said, “And we thought that was a nice project to have featured and highlighted here.”
Another important work tells the story of African-American oppression during one of Harrisburg’s darker moments in history: segregation. The mural, however, has an uplifting message since it celebrates some of the famous African-Americans who stayed at the former Jackson House Hotel at 1006 N. Sixth Street.
“It shows the unique side of Harrisburg through some of the famous people who came through but also reminds us of a time when segregation was a part of our history,” Copus added. “The way Cesar Viveros did it was paint by numbers, so community members actually helped paint that project, too. It is both rooted in the history of Harrisburg and then painted by residents and community members (around 200) from Harrisburg.”
The first-ever Harrisburg Mural Festival was a huge success in so many ways.
From organizers achieving their pre-set goal to providing a platform for artists to create aesthetically pleasing murals to beautify Harrisburg while also spreading art appreciation to the greater community, Sprocket Mural Works can be proud of what it accomplished.
“People did enjoy watching the work being created and surely do continue to appreciate the finished product,” Copus said. “We heard from many people who told us how much they enjoyed watching the work unfold. Seeing it happen, helps gain an appreciation for what the artist does. By bringing in high talent from around the world, I believe that creates an appreciation too due to the high quality of the work being presented.”
A lasting impact of the festival has been the heightened sense of community for local residents, and the goodwill it has generated among Harrisburg residents.
“I think that having art in your neighborhood, in your community, in your town, it is something that you can be proud of, something you can relate to and something that is uniquely yours,” Copus said. “It really helps us as individuals in our communities to kind of shape identities or what we associate with who we are. By putting more public art out there, more murals out there, I think we are building a greater sense of self as a community, as individuals, as neighbors, and as a city.”
Based on the success of the 2017 festival, Sprocket and their volunteer staff are busy planning and coordinating the 2019 edition, which will be held in late-August through early-September.
Achieving a successful street art festival requires having enough volunteers vested in your program and corporate sponsors to help fund it. Copus said 200 to 300 volunteers are needed for the 2019 festival, and added that volunteers and businesses willing to help sponsor the event can sign up by visiting the organization’s website.
“Harrisburg is full of people who are willing to help,” Copus said. “We had the assistance of a number of organizations who gave of themselves to make the festival happen. Based on that experience, we could see that there are a lot of people who are supportive of this – people who are willing to help who have skill sets that we don’t have.”
What started out as a simple idea sparked by a conversation between two friends has taken root and grown into something that all residents of the city of Harrisburg can take pride in seeing and appreciating for the lasting beauty it brings to their community.