Athens News Matters: Color the World Bright is Bringing Buildings to life with Vibrant Murals
Drive through the roundabout at the heart of Danielsville, Ga, population six hundred or so, and you’ll see freshly painted murals on all four sides of an old stucco building. This is the work of Color the World Bright, a group of mostly University of Georgia students and alumni, guided by Professor Joseph Norman.
Norman: “Sort of create and recreate a series of images and illustrations. For example, we’re putting [the MedLink] logo on the building. We’re recreating a huge Coca-Cola sign.”
Color the World Bright began over a decade ago as a chance for students to make some extra money to help pay for study abroad programs, Norman says. Since then, the group has completed dozens of murals all over Georgia: Jackie Robinson in Cairo, Janet Harmon Bragg, the first Black female pilot, in Griffin. And around Athens, you may recognize the bulldog on the side of the Waffle House on Epps Bridge Parkway, or maybe Albert Einstein on Broad Street.
This mural in Danielsville, commissioned by MedLink, is really a series of murals. It includes, as Norman mentioned, a Coca-Cola sign and the MedLink logo, but it also has the historic front of the R.H. Daniel General Store—complete with faux bricks – and a series of murals inspired by the iconic mid-century American artist Norman Rockwell, but with a twist.
Norman: “They are reimagined so that they will include a more diverse population; so it reflects more of what America is now than what Norman Rockwell had perceived what American was back when he was working for the Saturday Evening Post.”
As a professor at UGA’s Lamar Dodd School of Art, Norman guides the group, but the students are heavily involved in every step of the process, especially one alumna in particular, Katie Eidson.
Eidson: “I’m the project manager for the group. So, just worked my way up the ladder, basically.”
Eidson joined Color the World Bright like so many other students.
Eidson: “I took Professor Norman’s intermediate drawing class when I was at Georgia. And he took me under his wing and invited me to the group. I guess he decided he saw something in me.”
Another student, Alondra Arevalo, the assistant project manager, helps Katie with planning murals.
Arevalo: “I do more of the design work and talking to the commissioners about what they want on their mural. And then when I meet with them in person, I get to learn about timeframes, when we can come, how much it costs for supplies, our time…. And just get everything prepared before a job happens. And it bleeds into my own work at the art school because I know how much time is, like, how much it’s worth.”
Students learning the business of making art is a highlight. Members like Eidson, who is also an art teacher, says Norman has taught her about how to make money from her art skills as well as how to be an example of a working artists to her students.
Eidson: “It’s not like I’m over here making millions or anything. It’s not that I’m just drowning in it. It’s that it’s still feasibly making some sort of money…. But I was determined. Like I said, [Professor Norman is] a great example that it’s possible. And I feel like that gives me the power to be an example to my students. You know, it’s possible, it’s feasible, you can do it.”
Meredith Lachin, a former Color the World Bright member, was brought in as the skilled artist to paint the Rockwell inspired murals. Lachin describes one of the changes made to the paintings.
Lachin: “It is of a nurse with a little boy. The nurse is white and in the original painting the little boy is also white. She's about to take his temperature or look in his throat or something like that. And in our painting, we did a little black boy.”
And what did passersby think about the re-envisioning of an American classic?
Lachin: “One man in particular did talk about how, you know, it was interesting the way we decided to change the paintings given the context of, you know, where we are in the South and that he really thought it was great that we did that.”
Besides guiding and mentoring the Color the World Bright crew, Joseph Norman is an artist in his own right whose work can be found in esteemed museums and public collections, like the Museum of Modern Art, NY, the Museum of Fine Arts Boston, and the National Gallery, among others. When discussing his own work, Norman says:
Norman: “One of the things that I think artists have to do is to try to illuminate the purpose of man’s existence, have to sort of maybe speak truth to power, and try to maybe make a social commentary on the epoch in which they live.”
In his own art, Norman also likes when the audience is challenged.
Norman: “I also would like the audience to work a little bit, then they look at it carefully and they say, oh, that’s what that is. And so, I think it becomes art universal.”
And isn’t that what murals are—an opportunity for the viewer to stop and ponder, what is this all about? Norman and Eidson say there isn’t a shortage of viewers, stopping, pondering, and showing their appreciation.
Eidson: “I don’t think I can even count on two hands how many people have come up to the group and come up to us individually and told us great job, this looks amazing. Or people who are little bit older who have stopped by to tell us how many times they went into the store as children or as teenagers. You know they start to reminisce in front of you and its really cool to get all of their history and their personal perspectives on the town…. But seeing those communities come together and how much they care about us coming in really makes a statement about how much they care about these murals impacting their communities.”
It took about a month from the moment the first paintbrush touched the wall in downtown Danielsville to the completion of the project. The murals are dry now, and this corner of the world is a little brighter, as Norman and his team move on to the next project.