Motorists along Meriwether County’s picturesque highways may have noticed some colorful additions popping up of late.
Summer 2018’s completion in Luthersville and Gay of the last two in a series of history-themed murals caps a four-year tourism project aimed at attracting visitors and boosting the county’s economy.
“Meriwether County was blessed to be the beneficiary of a Tourism Resource Team Visit in 2014,” notes Meriwether County Chamber of Commerce President Carolyn McKinley. The visit and the state resource team’s resulting report provided a framework for a unique strategic tourism initiative.
“The use of murals as a public art tourism product was one of the specific recommendations offered,” McKinley said. Local tourism leaders launched the idea of a Meriwether Murals and Monarchs Trail. In all seven murals now have been installed – in Warm Springs, Lone Oak, Woodbury, Greenville, Manchester, Luthersville and Gay.
“While many cities have murals, there was no county-wide mural trail in Georgia,” McKinley explained. “A county-wide mural trail is an excellent way to create stronger community unity within the seven municipalities of this geographically large county and deliver a unique and appealing product to the tourism community.”
The muralist is John Christian with Hapeville-based Go Georgia Arts. “His goal as an artist is to create great art and serve as a role model and mentor for others to do the same,” McKinley said. Christian has already done murals in many locations throughout Georgia and is expanding his statewide mural trail with each new installation.
“Meriwether’s cities and towns are as diverse as they are historic, yet all share a unified vision to tell the county’s story through the murals which reflect the unique diversity and character of each city,” McKinley said. “The goal has been to create one cohesive art piece comprised of a mural in each of the cities.”
“Meriwether is geographically large, with over 500 square miles. It has seven municipalities, so county unity can sometimes be a challenge,” McKinley said. “Yet the tourism initiative has brought representation from all seven cities to the table to focus on a common agenda.”
“It is a transformational opportunity from the perspective of economic development through tourism, county wide collaboration and elevating a sense of community pride and ownership,” she said.
“A tourism ‘buzz’ is now evident in many places in the county and it is rewarding to be a part of this journey,” McKinley noted.
Meriwether is also recognized as a socio-economically depressed community, McKinley reflected. Median household income is a little over $35,000 and 22.6 percent of the county’s population lives in poverty.
“Economic development through tourism is a vitally needed industry in the community and the goal is to transform Meriwether County into a tourism destination of choice and provide visitors with memories they can hold forever,” she said.
Each mural includes common themes of water, references to the area’s founding history, and the impact of President Franklin D. Roosevelt who was drawn to Warm Springs for treatment of his polio and returned often to Meriwether to enjoy visits at his Little White House. All seven murals have a collage type composition, natural and somewhat muted color scheme, common font and consistent tag lines.
“The murals are becoming an avenue to create a greater appreciation of the visual arts and the community’s historical roots, while establishing the face and identity of Meriwether County,” McKinley said.
When state Tourism Product Development grant opportunities were announced from the Georgia Department of Economic Development, the community jumped at the opportunity to secure funding for this project. Additional funding from the Georgia Arts Council was also received for some project components.
The murals are being paired with pocket gardens that offer a spot for visitors to sit and relax while attracting and nurturing butterflies – especially the endangered Monarch butterflies. Each garden is being registered as part of First Lady Rosalyn Carter’s Butterfly Trail. Metal butterfly sculptures are being installed as well.
“Butterfly gardens are beautiful, can serve an important botanical educational role, enhance greenspace and underscore the community’s commitment to butterfly conservation,” McKinley said. To date, butterfly gardens have been installed in Warm Springs, Manchester, Luthersville and Woodbury. The Greenville garden is underway and site selection is being discussed in both Lone Oak and Gay.
Future plans call for installation of solar-powered eco- boxes alongside the murals to further enhance the visitor experience. The boxes will utilize recorded audio messages to tell the story of each mural. “By combining the murals, butterfly gardens, butterfly sculpture and the audio-boxes, the community will truly have a unique tourism product that will provide visitors and local citizens a unique and memorable experience,” McKinley observed.
“Our community is being transformed through the work that was started with the Resource Team Visit and the subsequent funding which has been made available from their Tourism Product Development component,” McKinley said.
“These seeds and the subsequent nurturing from that same team through excellent technical guidance have given our county a vibrancy, an energy and a robustness which we have not experienced before,” she said. “It has become an almost spiritual journey which had no end … only more possibility and opportunity. We are grateful and forever humbled.”
Luthersville’s mural in the Meriwether Murals and Monarchs Trail series was completed just before the 2018 Fourth of July holiday. Each mural on the Meriwether trail includes common themes of water, references to the area’s founding history, and the impact on the area of President Franklin D. Roosevelt.
Meriwether’s murals are being paired with pocket gardens like this one at the Warm Springs Tourist Information Center that offer a spot for visitors to sit and relax while attracting and nurturing butterflies – especially the endangered Monarch butterflies. Each garden is being registered as part of First Lady Rosalyn Carter’s Butterfly Trail.
Meriwether hopes to boost tourism with Murals and Monarchs Trail
August 27, 2018
Artist for the Meriwether Murals and Monarchs Trail project is John Christian with Hapeville-based Go Georgia Arts. He is shown in June 2016 at the Tourist Information Center in Warm Springs beside the first series mural which prominently features President Franklin D. Roosevelt.
The final of seven murals along the Meriwether Murals and Monarchs Trail was completed in recent weeks on a building in Gay, Ga. “Meriwether’s cities and towns are as diverse as they are historic, yet all share a unified vision to tell the county’s story through the murals which reflect the unique diversity and character of each city,” said Carolyn McKinley, Meriwether County Chamber of Commerce president.