Painting a movement: Live HealthSmart Alabama murals in Kingston and Titusville reenergize public spaces

Painting a movement: Live HealthSmart Alabama murals in Kingston and Titusville reenergize public spaces
Live HealthSmart Alabama has partnered with local businesses, organizations and community members to bring vivid and abstract murals to the Kingston and Titusville communities. (Steve Wood / UAB)

“Welcome to the BBQ” is the colorful invitation emblazoned on the recently repainted grill in Kingston’s Stockham Park. It is one of several new taglines and murals throughout the park inviting community members to enjoy the space.

The new additions are part of Live HealthSmart Alabama, a UAB initiative that works with businesses and organizations to improve buildings and access to healthy food, exercise and health care in underserved neighborhoods of Birmingham and Alabama. The initiative is led by the UAB Minority Health and Health Disparities Research Center, which partnered with Blank Space Birmingham, the Kingston Coalition and the Kingston Neighborhood Association to help revitalize Stockham Park.

Jessica Snyder, a program manager in the UAB Marnix E. Heersink School of Medicine, led the Kingston design process in the fall of 2020. The goals included creation of a logo representing the union of Kingston’s northern and southern neighborhoods and a refurbishing of the park focused on elevating community voices to create open and beautiful areas that bring people together.

Bright colors add beauty to a building in the Kingston neighborhood. (Steve Wood / UAB)

“Everything Live HealthSmart Alabama does is done in partnership with the community,” Snyder said. “One of the ways we got feedback was by organizing a text campaign where community members could tell us what values were important to the people of Kingston and what they wanted for the future of their community, and we would incorporate their ideas into our designs.”

The Live HealthSmart Alabama team found that Kingston residents wanted to evoke a sense of unity within their neighborhood through their previous high school mascot, the Pacesetter eagle. The One Kingston wing mural was born, using abstract imagery of the eagle represented by a set of wings. Community members, artists and UAB students painted the park’s concession stand, grill and basketball courts and added a hopscotch outline. Snyder said the bold fonts and color choices evoke the natural environment in a reenergized way, while matching the bold, diverse personalities of Kingston residents.

“The bright colors bring to mind emotions of happiness and positivity – two things we want associated with this space,” Snyder said. “People love to seek out beautiful things, and we think more people will be drawn to interact with the park and playground.”

The work in Kingston is emblematic of Live HealthSmart Alabama’s impact goals on built environments, improving community safety, encouraging the usage of outdoor spaces and bringing vibrancy to collective areas to attract engagement and inspire people to think more naturally about physical activity.

Dr. Mona Fouad, principal investigator of Live HealthSmart Alabama and director of the UAB Minority Health and Health Disparities Research Center, explained the initiative’s early focus on art: “These murals are a good representation of how neighborhoods can work with our UAB teams to solve problems together. If there is an issue in the community – such as access to safe places for physical activity and healthy food options – we believe the solution is also in the community.”

Lovie Crawford, outgoing president of the Kingston Neighborhood Association, said the response from residents has been encouraging.

“The overall response has been great in terms of unifying the community,” she said. “People are coming out to the park more, and that has been good to see.”

Titusville

Live HealthSmart Alabama partnered with the Birmingham community of Titusville, the Titusville Development Corporation and the Titusville Coalition on a similar project to revitalize the neighborhood’s Memorial Park Recreation Center and develop a logo and tagline for the community. A ribbon-cutting at the center was held in September.

A mural on a building in Titusville enlivens the neighborhood. (Steve Wood / UAB)

Snyder also worked on the Titusville project, with extensive input from residents and people who use the space. “During every step of the process, they were providing context and feedback to ensure it was perfect,” she said. “It was truly a group effort, one that everyone poured their heart into. I’m excited to see the future unfold for Titusville.”

The back wall of the recreation center now pops with vivid colors and interactive thought bubbles, encouraging visitors to think about their future and their contributions to the present, with a nod to the community’s legacy in the civil rights movement. A new town logo, featuring the outlines of north and south Titusville and Woodland Park, provides a visual sense of cohesion. And the tagline, “Courage of our past, forging our future,” echoes the important contributions of previous residents while setting up current ones for success.

This idea of forward-looking progress was echoed by Ronald Bayles, executive director of the Titusville Development Corporation, a nonprofit dedicated to revitalizing the community, in his commentary about the impact of the mural work. “The art has done two things,” he said. “It has sparked an interest in people who knew that, after many years of planning, work in the community has begun. And it creates a sense of anticipation … suggesting that community work like this is not a finale but a beginning.”

Meghan McCollum, founder of Blank Space Birmingham, an organization dedicated to reclaiming public spaces through art projects, was involved in the mural work in Titusville and Kingston and was pleased to see community members’ reactions to the work.

“Art is done with people, not just for them,” she said. “And so, when we had residents who lived near where we were working bring us food and thank us for bringing art to their communities, it was such a powerful thing.

“Murals are a very visual element of the larger work that is being done in these communities,” she added. The bright visuals and creation of a unified community brand work to create a big project for many opportunities to create moments that have an impact on people.

McCollum fondly remembers one of those moments: When she was working with volunteers painting a mural, a group of children stopped by to lend a hand. “And after a little while, this kid named Curtis turned to me and said, ‘I think I want to be an artist when I grow up,’” McCollum said. “And whether or not he does, it was heartening to see him view that as an option. I like to think that we’re providing a vision of what could be – like brushstrokes of possibility.”

This story originally appeared on the UAB News website.

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