Lincoln mural: Small arts organizations, big impact

Artists Cesar Goncalves de Almeida at left, Eduardo Kobra, center and Agnaldo Brito Periera, right, moved their platforms into place to finish the Lincoln mural on the back of the Kentucky Theatre in  Lexington, Ky., on Nov. 11, 2013.  © Herald-Leader staff photo by Pablo Alcala.

Artists Cesar Goncalves de Almeida at left, Eduardo Kobra, center and Agnaldo Brito Periera, right, moved their platforms into place to finish the Lincoln mural on the back of the Kentucky Theatre in Lexington, Ky., on Nov. 11, 2013. © Herald-Leader staff photo by Pablo Alcala.

I drove into work today under the steady gaze of our nation’s 16th President and Kentucky’s No. 1 son, as I anticipate I will for many years to come.

Eduardo Kobra’s 60-foot tall mural of President Abraham Lincoln on the back of the Kentucky Theatre completely transforms what was previously a non-descript series of building walls that faced the street to the left as you go down the one-way Vine Street. Now, we have an icon of Kentucky, in his familiar pose from one of our great historic sites (Washington D.C.’s Lincoln Memorial), colorfully reinterpreted for the 21st Century by an internationally acclaimed Brazilian artist.

Maybe what is most striking is who brought us this piece, which will be one of the most viewed artworks in Lexington.

It was not one of the major arts groups that receives tens of thousands of dollars a year in operating grants from LexArts and the Kentucky Arts Council. It was PRHBTN, a three-year-old street art festival that is for the most part open to the public for three days a year and run by the husband-and-wife duo of John and Jessica Winters.

The festival, which derives its name from the fact that the art it features has often been deemed illegal, sprung from the Winters’ idea of having a street art festival, and their ideas have been getting more ambitious ever since. By the end of the weekend, another three PRHBTN murals will be on walls on the north side of Lexington.

They have enjoyed help from LexArts, which is administering the fundraising for the Kobra mural, which will cost about $17,000, Jessica says. LexArts is also donating some of the proceeds from Saturday’s Bourbon Barrel Project Auction to the mural’s costs.

But the mural is really a testament to the power of an idea and the fact that in a city like Lexington, an arts group does not have to have a huge donor base or organization to have a huge impact. We frankly are seeing that over and over again in projects by a few creative and enterprising people that end up enjoying wide interest, like the Lexington Tattoo Project that will have its grand finale event Friday and the Chamber Music Festival of Lexington that is helping redefine a music genre in Central Kentucky.

It seems only fitting that mural most illustrative of this movement is of a man who came from humble beginnings in Kentucky but had ideas that still resonate today.

Note: There are two chances to contribute to the Kobra mural and PRHBTN coming up. From 7 to 10 p.m. Thursday night, all sales at the Blue Heron on Jefferson Street will go to support PRHBTN projects. And on Friday, the Change for Art project will donate all change in its meters to PRHBTN and the Kobra mural. Meters are located at Busters Billiards and Backroom, the Kentucky Theatre, CD Central and Good Foods Co-op.

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