Rural Murals: Georgia Co-op Promotes Revitalization Through Public Art

Artist Chris Johnson and the Nature Conservancy’s Lu Ann Creighton review plans for the future mural in downtown Buena Vista. (Photo Courtesy: On the Square Holdings)

A Georgia electric cooperative is continuing to help revitalize communities with an initiative that provides funding for public art in its service area.

Through its Rural Murals program, Flint Energies recently awarded two $10,000 grants to groups in Buena Vista and Fort Valley, which will also chip in some money for their projects. It’s the second mural in Fort Valley funded by the Reynolds-based co-op.

The Buena Vista mural will feature the state’s endangered longleaf pine ecosystem and is slated to be finished in July. Its canvas will be a vacant building belonging to On the Square Holdings LLC, a family-owned company that wrote the grant. Local environmental groups, including the Nature Conservancy’s Georgia chapter, are also involved. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is participating as well.

“What we’re hoping for is when groups are in our area, they will say, ‘We need to go to Buena Vista and eat lunch and get our picture taken at the mural,’” said Jay Wells, co-owner of the company. “It’s amazing the number of benefits we will all get from this mural.”

Since 2019, Flint Energies’ murals programs has awarded five grants using unclaimed capital credits. Columbus, Georgia-based artist Chris Johnson has painted four of the five existing murals and has been hired for the Buena Vista and Fort Valley projects.

“Historical Links to Our Past” was installed May 2020 in downtown Roberta, Georgia. (Photo By: Chris Johnson)

“We hope the murals will bring travelers off main interstates to travel the backroads and off the beaten path to discover the vast resources our area has to offer,” said Marian McLemore, the co-op’s vice president of cooperative communications. Eventually, she added, the co-op wants all 17 counties in its service area to have Main Street murals.

In Roberta, the 680-square-foot mural of local agricultural and historical themes on a brick pipeline company is a source of community pride. And while the mural’s May 2020 installation isn’t directly linked to the subsequent opening of a new school, City Hall landscape and restaurant, residents say its presence has been a breath of fresh air.

“The population is still the same, but I do feel there’s a spring in everyone’s step when they come downtown,” said Cynde Dickey, office manager of the state’s oldest continuously operating peach farm, which is pictured in the mural.

“We are almost full downtown with businesses, and we have received a great deal of out-of-state publicity, typically with a picture of the mural as part of the feature,” said Dickey, who helped write the grant application.

In Buena Vista, environmental groups see the mural as a promising new way to join forces and raise awareness of conservation issues.

“We have these different groups who historically did our own thing, but not anymore,” said Lu Ann Creighton, the outreach director of the state’s Nature Conservancy chapter. “Through these collaborative partnerships, we can work with private landowners, like the Wells family, to show how natural resources can benefit rural communities.”

Victoria A. Rocha is a staff writer for NRECA.