By Dustin Duncan, Alabama Cooperative Extension System
The perfect selfie destination might be in Monroeville, Alabama.
The Literary Capital of Alabama is home to more than 25 murals that make up the smART Moves Mural Trail. The mural trail is a collaborative project between Monroeville Main Street, the Monroeville/Monroe County Chamber of Commerce and Alabama Extension at Auburn University’s ALProHealth program.
ALProHealth is an obesity prevention and reduction program funded through the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) High Obesity Program. ALProHealth is focused on increasing community health in 13 Alabama counties with an adult obesity prevalence of 40% or greater.
As one of ALProHealth’s communities, funds were available to Monroe County to promote physical activity. Creating a mural trail gives residents a fun reason to spend more time participating in physical activity and enjoying their community.
Anne Marie Bryan, executive director of Monroeville Main Street, and Penelope Hines, executive director of the Monroeville/Monroe County Chamber of Commerce, led the ALProHealth community coalition to bring the selfie mural trail into reality.
Playing off the state’s desire to add more murals in local communities, Bryan felt that utilizing local artists and community members to add a splash of color to the county would incentivize residents to get outside and walk around the downtown area.
“Placemaking is a key part of our Main Street mission, and art is vital when creating a sense of place,” Bryan says. “Art trails appeal to people of all backgrounds, spark conversations and encourage people to get out of their cars and walk around our beautiful downtown. By hiring all Monroe County artists for the selfie murals, we created community pride through local connections.”
Hines felt the mural trail would give visitors another reason to explore downtown Monroeville and its surrounding communities, boosting tourism and adding an economic development component.
“Adding quality local art to our historic downtown appeals to people of all ages,” Hines says. “Furthermore, it encourages tourists to stay overnight, shop in our unique stores, and eat in our local restaurants.”
Partnership with ALProHealth
When ALProHealth Program Manager Dr. Ruth Brock heard the mural trail idea, she was on board from the start.
“Murals are a great way to bring people outdoors to see and experience their community while also increasing physical activity in a new and interesting way,” Brock says.
Monroe County Extension Coordinator Anthony Wiggins said it was great to see the many partnerships come together with the community coalition and turn the mural trail into a reality.
“I have been impressed with the artwork and the talent of these local artists,” Wiggins says. “Everyone involved with this effort took pride in their role, and it shows in how great the murals look and enhance Monroeville and surrounding communities.”
Calling all artists
The first step was figuring out what to call the trail. The community coalition created a contest for local students to name the trail, leading to the smART Moves in Monroe County Mural Trail. Madelyn Flummer, a fifth grader at Excel Elementary School, submitted the winning name.
Once they had a name, it was time to paint. Monroeville Main Street and the Monroeville/Monroe County Chamber of Commerce put a call out for artists and received about 60 to 70 pieces of potential artwork. Artists ranged from professionals to high school students.
A committee selected the artwork for each community within Monroe County. Hines said many of the murals have significance to their respective community, and others allowed the artists to show off their creative side.
Monroeville has a large mural titled “Literary Giants” by Johnna Bush to celebrate Monroe County novelists Harper Lee, Truman Capote and Mark Childress, as well as other former Monroe County residents and connections. In Frisco City, there’s a mural of a red caboose as a tribute to a retired red caboose in the center of the town. Also, at the Red and White grocery store in downtown Monroeville, a mural commemorates Houston Texans’ offensive tackle Tytus Howard, who played football at Monroe County High School and Alabama State University.
In all, there are 26 murals throughout Monroe County.
“Our county has a rich and diverse history from the southern farms to the railroad, to the diverse outdoor opportunities in the northern timber land,” Hines says. “From a tourism aspect, it was important for the project to include our rural communities with art that would encourage visitors to stop and explore.”
Bryan knew she wanted the mural trail to be a starting point for encouraging residents to spend time in the community and attract more visitors to Monroeville and Monroe County.
Leveraging the success of the mural trail, Bryan has obtained two AARP grants in Monroeville. One grant secured wheelchair-assessible chess and checker game tables along with benches and trash cans downtown with additional tables in several parks throughout the city. The other grant will install water fountains with bottle refill stations and a 24-panel storybook trail near many of the murals in the city.
“ALProHealth and AARP’s Community Challenge grant missions go hand-in-hand creating a natural segue for the grants to complement each other,” Bryan says. “The mural trail, along with the storybook trail, create multiple activities encouraging people to move throughout our historic square, the benches and tables create comfortable resting spots, and the water fountains/bottle fillers provide free healthy hydration.
“These grants projects create a domino effect, adding momentum to the positive energy in our downtown, supporting healthy activities, and spurring multigenerational community connections while simultaneously promoting our diverse and unique rural community.”
For more information about ALProHealth, contact Brock at firstname.lastname@example.org. For more information about Monroe County Extension programs, call Wiggins at (251) 238-2007. To contact Bryan with Monroeville Main Street or Hines with Monroeville/Monroe County Chamber of Commerce, call (251) 743-2879.