Duluth's Lincoln Park unveils Art Walk celebrating community murals
Ecolibrium3's Main Street Lincoln Park project invites visitors and residents to learn more about 13 murals.
DULUTH — "We have people from all over the United States in here!" said Shannon Laing, addressing a couple dozen listeners on the morning of March 30 in the Lincoln Park building her organization Ecolibrium3 calls home.
The occasion was a kickoff for the Lincoln Park Art Walk, a project highlighting 13 murals created in the neighborhood over the past half-decade.
Among the attendees were members of an AmeriCorps crew that's been working with Ecolibrium3 on projects including a community garden and a forthcoming grocery store; corps members called out home states including New York, California and Oregon.
As a thick snow fell outside the windows of the recently rechristened Lincoln Park Hub, Laing displayed an example of the Arbor Wood signs designed to identify each of the 13 murals that constitute the Lincoln Park Art Walk.
"It has the artist's name, has the name of the piece, has the month and year it was installed," Laing pointed out. Each sign also has a QR code that viewers can scan with their smartphones to access more information about the mural and its creator via Ecolibrium3's website . The project entailed documenting each mural with professional photos by Duluth-based William Hurst.
Laing, who runs Ecolibrium3's community development program Main Street Lincoln Park, said she was inspired to launch the Art Walk after a 2018 Aerial Lift Bridge mural painted for Minnesota Public Radio's The Current by artist David Moreira was painted over in 2020.
"That's when it kind of started scratching my brain that we're at a really interesting time in history in this neighborhood," Laing said. "Things are happening so quickly that we really need to grab those moments while we can, because then they just get lost to memory."
Laing credited AmeriCorps VISTA participant Stephanie Nielsen with putting the Art Walk's web pages together. Nielsen, a 2020 University of Minnesota Duluth graduate, said "this has been a really, really awesome project." She said she learned a lot about the neighborhood's murals, and hopes others will do the same. "We hope the Art Walk will get people out ... just becoming more comfortable with the area."
Patrick Weber of Northern Expressions Arts Collective (and VISTA program coordinator for Ecolibrium3), said that as a Lincoln Park resident, he appreciates the "vitality" public art brings to the neighborhood. He leads families on Art Walk scavenger hunts through the neighborhood, he said, and his participants' favorite so far has been Moira Villiard's bright dragonfly mural on the exterior wall of the Lincoln Park Hub.
Inside the Hub, the Art Walk's most recent installation is a three-panel collage installed in November 2021. Liz Axberg, community outreach coordinator VISTA for the Duluth Art Institute, noted the untitled mural was created by local youth collaborating with artist Nelia Harper .
The mural's subject matter celebrates what the children love about Duluth and their neighborhood, said Axberg, but also draws attention to the community's challenges. "They talked a lot about how Lincoln Park is really close to the lake, but because of all the industry, they feel really disconnected from it ... to get to the beach, you drive all the way to Park Point."
Chronologically, the first mural on the Art Walk is Paul LaJeunesse's "Lincoln Park Craft District," on the wall of 1902 W. Superior St. facing 19th Avenue. That mural was the result of a neighborhood initiative, launched in 2015, to improve the streetscape. The mural, which depicts the community's history of craftwork, was unveiled in 2017.
"I'd say that less than half the current storefronts that are now filled, were filled" in 2017, said Laing. "This was something really important."
Laing said this is just the beginning for the Art Walk, supported by the Minnesota Main Streets economic development program. "We are going to continue to add pieces," she said. "I know of at least three that are coming online this summer that aren't even in existence yet."
As funding becomes available, said Laing, local artists and neighborhood business owners are ready to add many more murals. "I've got a big fat list of business owners who say, 'If you come up with something, let me know.' ... and I've been approached by artists saying, 'Hey, do you know of a building owner who would want (a mural)? I've got funding already."
As the kickoff concluded, Laing shared statements from two mural artists who weren't able to attend. One was from Stephanie Olson, who created a 2018 mural featuring the Lift Bridge and an array of inspirational words inside Corktown Deli & Brews.
"Thank you very much for the opportunity to bring my art to the attention (and) the eyes of Duluth," said Olson in the statement Laing read. In the big picture of Duluth's cityscape, said Olson, "I feel like a very colorful puzzle piece."