The Douglas Design District is an even more colorful place now that the last of four outdoor murals commissioned for the area has been completed and installed on the exterior of a popular business.
On Saturday, artist Thomas Murillo unveiled his mural “Earth,” now hanging on the front of Watermark Books at 4701 E. Douglas.
The mural, a layered, vibrantly colored piece featuring mountains, forests, glaciers and plant life, is Murillo’s second contribution to the project. His first painting, titled “Water,” was installed on the side of The Anchor, 1109 E. Douglas, in March.
The other two murals, created by Josh Tripoli, also were installed over the past several months. “Fire” was put up on the side of Logan Street Fine Wood Products at 1824 E. Douglas in June, and “Air” was installed on the side of Douglas Photographic Imaging at 2300 E. Douglas in September.
The murals were commissioned after the district, which stretches about three miles along Douglas from Old Town to Oliver, was awarded a $7,764 grant from the Kansas Creative Arts Industries Commission through the Kansas Department of Commerce. The district’s board matched that grant and then some with money contributed by merchants in the area.
Leaders of the group, made up of merchants whose goal is to improve the East Douglas corridor, said they had no idea what they’d get when they selected the two young artists, both in their early 20s and friends since they met at Northeast Magnet. (Murillo is the son of well-known local artist Steve Murillo, responsible for the neon light columns at Central and McLean and his own commissioned mosaic, which was put up on the side of Abode Venue at 1109 E. Douglas in June.)
“We expected something cool,” said Leon Moeder, a member of the Douglas Design District’s board. “But what we got was over the top – way over the top. I’m glad we paid by the painting and not by the brush stroke.”
The Douglas Design District, which was loosely formed in 2007, has grown slowly, Moeder said. But there are more signs all the time that people are beginning to recognize it and its mission.
Moeder knew they were making progress, he said, when local real estate agents started advertising properties by saying they were in the trendy Douglas Design District. Art projects like this one make the area even more desirable.
Murillo and Tripoli both worked on their murals in Steve Murillo’s basement studio in Old Town. They were surprised by how much more vibrant the colors on their work appeared in the daylight.
Both said they were grateful for the opportunity to create large-scale works that will be seen so widely.
“Josh and I are working on our artistic careers, so this is prime,” said Murillo, who had created art mostly with spray paint before this commission, his first foray into brush-stroke painting. “And it’s in our hometown. So it’s great exposure.”
Susan Downey, president of the Douglas Design District board, said that the group is working to put together a Christmas event and will shift its focus to the district’s merchants during the holiday season.
The weatherproof murals will hang for a few years and then likely will be auctioned off to raise money for more art projects in the district.
“If people have not been down to see these murals, they definitely need to take the time to drive by and see them all,” Downey said.