Living Democracy

Elba Paints Community Mural

image of Elba mural

And the Lord said, “Indeed the people are one and they all have one language, and this is what they begin to do; now nothing that they propose to do will be withheld from them…” -- Genesis 11:6

In the beginning the almighty had but one talent.  That talent was not to rule, not to dictate, not to punish nor to empower, it was simply to create.  The almighty created heaven and earth in six days and on the seventh day he rested. The Bible says he created us in his image and after his likeness, which means that it is also written in our DNA to create.

Artists are the demigods of our time, but the commoner should not feel inferior to the modern day Picasso’s of the 21st Century, for it is in everyone’s blood to create.  We are all artists in our own respect, and the entire world is our canvas to shape and form into whatever reality we choose.

image of people painting Elba muralIt has been my privilege to be a part of an effort to create a work of community art visible to all. During the past few weeks in Elba, I have been running myself ragged to accomplish what first seemed impossible. 

As a Living Democracy student, I had been planning to paint a community mural even before I arrived in this town, but I had intended for it to take place toward the end of my 10-week stay.  The pace picked up when I realized the idea was embraced by the entire community.

My community partner, Mart Gray, gave me the scoop on local artist Millie McCollough, the owner of My Happy Place, an Elba gift boutique & art studio. McCullough, an Auburn graduate, had a vision for painting a mural in the downtown area for a long time.

She owned the building at 214 Factory Ave. N that would serve as a larger-than-life canvas and had already prepped it for paint.  But it gets better.  She had also designed a rough sketch of the mural that she envisioned for the wall of her business.   

I met with her immediately. As I walked into her shop on a hot afternoon, my body was refreshed by the smell of blooming roses and an air conditioning unit that would give Alaska a run for its money.  It was then I realized why she called it “My Happy Place”. 

I explained to the shop owner why I was in Elba for the summer, and we hit it off immediately. Later her daughter, Cammie, joined us.  We talked for a good hour before I left.  I was told to return in a few days to pick up the sketches she had done.  Apparently she and her associates had been planning this for months but because of lack of time it got shoved to the back of the shelf. 

image of Living Democracy Student Jelani Moore working on muralOn my next visit I picked up the initial sketches that were full of character.  I was excited to work on it.  It contained all the key points in Elba’s culture:  the highway, the business, the Pea River and more.  It told the story of Elba in a simple single image.

That’s when the timetable sped up. I was invited one afternoon to meet with Mrs. McCollough, Elba’s mayor, Mickey Murdock, and the executive director of the Chamber of Commerce, Sandy Bynum.

They were thrilled to see the mural was back at the top of the to-do list, even more so than me.

“We can get this started in about two weeks don’t ya think?” Mrs. McCollough asked me. Shocked by her proposal, I gave the most instinctive answer possible: “of course!”   “What was I thinking?

In less that five days this project went from a relaxing evening painting a wall to a full-blown community event that involved all of Coffee County.  No pressure right?  It wouldn’t be so stressful had it been just us two—or three or four—working on it. But this evolved into a true community mural.

A community mural is a mural that is drawn out in a very simple yet sophisticated design so that anyone—artistic background or not—can participate in the painting process.  In a nutshell, it’s a giant coloring page. 

This meant that the actual painting process would be a piece of cake—sort of—but the planning would be twice as grueling.  I designed the final version in one night. That was the easy part. The project had evolved into a weeklong festival.

image of people painting Elba muralI cannot express how grateful I am for the city of Elba coming together and making this possible in just two weeks.  Had I started from scratch on my own like I originally planned this would never have worked.

Teamwork makes this dream work! 

We settled on an official name for our event, the first Elba Renaissance Festival. Three days from opening night everything seemed to be in order.  I had my first mate and Team154 member Deshawn Edwards (a.k.a DJ Merc) managing all the sound.  We had acts lined up for every day except for Wednesday, which was open-mic night.

The city purchased all the paint and constructed a stage.  We had roads shut down, and we promoted the event in every store, shop and restaurant in Elba and surrounding communities.  The community party was set.

Sponsors of the Renaissance Festival included the Elba Chamber of Commerce, Wildflowers, Elba Florist, the Jewel Box, Robbie and Son Cleaners, Windham Lumber Co., and others.

Just as the festival was set to begin, we prepared for the main event, the mural. On the Friday night before the festival, we rounded up a few volunteers and my partners with Restoration 154 to draw our image on the wall using a projector.

Position, trace, done!  One would think it’d be that easy, but we were by no means architects.  It takes some serious math to project something that large on a wall using nothing but pencils and rulers.  But, after hours of arguing, scaling, drawing, then rescaling, we got it done all in a day’s work. 

image of Elba's community muralWe kicked things off on opening night with an afternoon press conference. I invited my father, John Moore, to Elba that day to come watch while his son got to sit next to nice ladies in high heels and expensive perfume.

The festivities began with Mayor Murdock painting the first section of the wall.  Not long after, the entire sidewalk in front of the mural was lined with people from all over.  DJ Merc was at the soundboard. Onlookers brought foldout chairs and cold beverages. Painters of all ages were covered with colors, and smiles danced across every face as they saw a blank wall come to life. 

These were no Warhols or Michelangelos. They were just Brant and Becky from two houses down.  Yet, in this moment they were creators.  As the days passed, the crowd grew larger and larger. We were even forced to make additions to the mural due to an excess of eager participants wanting to make their mark in Elba history. 

Throughout the entire week of June 16-21, I was delighted to see how many people showed up every day for six days just to paint a wall. 

No one held back from praising my contributions to creating such an admirable cornerstone for this town.  I personally learned that my true talent resided not so much in drawing but in simply bringing people together.

Where am I? This is A-L-A-B-A-M-A, the battleground of inequality and prejudice.  Yet during this week of celebration all the hues of browns, reds, and blues came together for one single purpose: to create.

This event turned out to be just what its name implied, a renaissance that brought hundreds together during the week.  There was music, there was food, there was play. There was energy in the air that one cannot describe with words.

image of Living Democracy student Jelani Moore in front of Elba's community muralThe planning and prep work completed prior to the event took it’s toll on my mind and body, but when I dragged the first brush across the jagged surface of what was once an empty plane of potential, the burden was lifted.  It was its own form of therapy, and it touched not just me but everyone who was there.

Now, the colorful mural, described by Debra Coon Rivera as “a wonderful addition to our town”, will hold colorful memories for those who participated and inspire visitors who happen to be traveling through town on Highway 84.

As Martha Johnson said, “We’re really happy to see this thing of beauty here in Elba.”    

That’s when I recalled the words from Genesis 11:6.  The people had come together as one, the language being art—which makes no discrimination. Now nothing could stand in their way.  From start to finish this vision was conceived by the power of many minds joining together to conquer the unconquerable.

Work on the wall continues and will surely inspire other community creations. This project has been the best example of democracy I have ever witnessed in my entire life (thus far).

When the people are one, nothing will be withheld from them.  Nothing.  

Last Updated: July 03, 2014