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Between a mural and a hard place

Leesburg's Town Hall parking garage has been a massive eyesore for more than 20 years. Its colorless exterior clashes with the historic yellow and blue storefronts downtown. But within the next year, that just might change.

The Leesburg Commission on Public Art released a request for proposals June 12 seeking an artist to paint a mural on the parking garage.

“I thought it would be a cool place to have a mural,” Town Council Member Kelly Burk said. Burk, who proposed a mural for the parking garage last summer, is excited about COPA's first major public art project.

The path to this RFP has not been easy, however. While the original plans called for buildings to be constructed on either side of the garage entrance, cost and difference of opinion in the town council kept any solid ideas from moving forward.

The first promise of change arrived in 2006, when the owners of Gallery 222 asked if they could paint a mural on the side of their building. This led to the founding of the commission on public art. The commission received little to no funding until the Friends of Leesburg Public Arts was launched in February 2012.

By the summer of that year, Burk recommended the commission do something about the parking garage.

“If you go down to Charlottesville or any of the college towns, there's art everywhere,” she said. “A community that is devoid of art doesn't really have much of a soul.”

The art commission sent out an RFP and selected three possible mural artists in March, but neither the town council nor the commission were happy with the cost of their services. The town of Leesburg rewrote its guidelines and set a cost limit before reissuing the current RFP.

However, some remain opposed to the mural.

Councilman Kevin Wright voted against the mural. “I am not 100 percent sold that that is the best way to use that parcel,” he said.

While Wright would prefer private businesses to develop the property, he supports COPA's efforts to promote public art.

“I think the commission is on the right track,” he said. The biggest challenge going into the future, he said, will be funding.

Friends of Leesburg Public Arts will raise funds for the mural by soliciting donations, organizing the Leesburg Fine Arts Festival, and holding artist receptions once the mural painter is selected.

“I'm very excited,” president Pamela Butler said. “It's been a long time coming.”

Mural painting candidates may be a single artist or a group of up to three artists who can finish the project during the spring of 2014 for less than $50,000. A three-person jury of local artists will pick the design based on a theme of Leesburg history, commerce, diversity and growth. Interested applicants can visit the Bid Board at http://www.leesburgva.gov for more information.


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