BIRMINGHAM — Blues legend B.B. King, soul-based band (and Birmingham natives) St. Paul and the Broken Bones and a few ballerinas are meeting up on Third Avenue North downtown. Their convergence will come in the form of a several-stories-high mural painted across the Whitmire Building in the heart of Birmingham’s historic theater district.
The mural is no coincidence. It’s meant to act as a statement — a loud, colorful proclamation symbolizing Birmingham coming back into focus. Blank Space Mural Project, a local grassroots movement whose mission is to reclaim public spaces with street art, is the artistic force behind the larger-than-life painting.
This is the second mural spearheaded by the Mural Project. The first installment is only a stone’s throw away on 19th Street North between Third and Fourth avenues. It depicts — in a pop art style reminiscent of Andy Warhol — Birmingham’s calling card: the Vulcan statue.
Meghan McCollum, project manager for the Blank Space Mural Project, said large-scale street art has greater power than just visual stimulation. It tells a story.
“This art is representative of the redevelopment of Birmingham,” said McCollum, who hails from Atlanta but found inspiration in the Magic City while writing her undergrad thesis on Sloss Furnaces and its role in transforming the local landscape. “Street art formed as a way for people to reclaim a space and mark their territory — saying I belong here. These are my streets.”
The Blank Space Mural Project only recently began beautifying Birmingham by bringing life to formerly vacant building sides. Kyle Kruse, who owns both properties where the completed Vulcan mural and soon-to-be mural exist, spearheaded the project alongside Stephanie Guckenberger. McCollum said Kruse had the vision for the project long before paint hit the walls.
“It was just kind of serendipitous how it all came about, and the three of us decided to make it happen,” she said. “It was really slow at first, but then we started putting dates on the project and putting numbers on it, and it started happening.”
One of the Mural Project’s goals is to serve as a cultural bridge in Birmingham — closing the gap between the past and the present, and catalyzing a vibrant, colorful future for Birmingham and beyond.
With downtown recently experiencing its own renaissance, McCollum acknowledged the growing gentrification trend. Through making art accessible to anyone, she said she hopes to create a more inclusive environment.
“Street art doesn’t exclude anyone. It’s made to reach people who normally wouldn’t go into a gallery or an art shop,” she said. “It’s made to engage a larger audience — and that, to me, is the most exciting part about this project.”
The mural on Third Avenue North will boast several layers of symbolism. Its colors, which will be similar to its neighboring mural, are inspired by the basic broadcast test signal — a seven-point gray scale ranging from white to black, green and aqua, all the way to true blue and magenta. Musician silhouettes will be the forefront of the color scheme, signifying — like a radio coming into focus — Birmingham becoming clear again.
“It’s like a broadcast on TV where you turn it on and at first it’s kind of fuzzy, but then the color comes out,” McCollum said. “That’s what we’re trying to symbolize with these projects.”
After witnessing the success of the Vulcan mural (the painting has already received Instagram fame with the hashtag #vulcanmuralproject), McCollum said the possibilities for this next mural are endless.
“The amount of street art in the world is insane,” she said. “You’ll see these iconic pieces of art in New York and London — and it just speaks to the area. It kind of becomes advertising for the city.”
The benefits of street art, McCollum continued, are enormous.
“If you can create a space where someone is going to say, ‘What do you think this artwork means?’ Who knows what possibilities can come out of that,” she said.
By starting a conversation about what it means to live in Birmingham — or what it means to simply walk the city’s downtown — Blank Space Mural Project aims to be a positive spark in a city that already has a creative fire burning beneath it.
“We want people from Ensley to come and enjoy this. We want people from Avondale and Woodlawn to feel welcome in this piece,” McCollum said. “It may seem rather ambitious for a big painting in a parking lot, but I think it’s important to inspire people to be better and do better. That’s really what it’s all about.”
For more information on the Blank Space Mural Project, search hashtags #bethemagicbham and #blankspacemuralproject on Instagram.