The old Grand Theater at Chestnut and Oak streets in downtown Conway closed decades ago, but its connection with the arts will be revived when a mural is painted on the outside wall.
The mural will happen with the support of the city of Conway and the Mid-America Arts Alliance.
“This is such an exciting location for a mural,” said Gayle Seymour, professor of art and associate dean of the University of Central Arkansas College of Fine Arts and Communication.
“It not only refers to the arts in Conway but to the city’s history. You can still see the theater’s original fly loft (a storage space above the stage) at the end of the wall, which measures 20 feet high and 65 feet wide.”
A boutique, Grand On Oak, is the building’s main occupant, named as a nod to its history.
The Grand Theater was opened in 1910 as the Grand Opera House and then became the Grand Theater, which presented plays by stage companies and, if not booked for live theater, it showed motion pictures. The theater closed in 1956.
“The mural also may be seen as a gateway to the Markham (Street) corridor to Hendrix Village,” Seymour said. “It will be a crossroad for the city. It will be a great way-finding device. You’ll hear people say, ‘Go to the mural, take a left, take a right.’”
In spring 2012, Seymour applied for a grant from the arts alliance on behalf on the college and several partners to bring Dave Loewenstein, a nationally known muralist, to Conway to paint a second community mural. The city’s first community mural, Aurora Rising, was created in 2006 on City Hall by members of the community with UCA graduate Morton Brown, now the public art manager for the city of Pittsburgh, as the lead artist.
“Our application made it to the final round and the Mid-America people came to town for a site visit, but we lost,” Seymour said with a smile. “They said we had already created one community mural and we could probably create a second one by ourselves.”
The city of Arkadelphia received the grant for the community mural project and Jordan Karpe, a 2012 summa cum laude graduate of UCA with a degree in studio art, was selected to be the mural apprentice under Loewenstein.
Since that time, the Mid-America Arts Alliance launched a new grant program, Artistic Innovations. Karpe applied for a grant to paint a mural in Conway and was awarded $8,000. The Conway City Council agreed earlier this month to match that grant, giving Karpe the money necessary to execute the mural.
“The next step in the process is to get the community involved,” Seymour said.
“People don’t have to be artists to participate in this project. The mural needs to come from the community. We need people to generate ideas, to paint, to do any number of things. We want as many people from as many walks of life to come together to make this mural.”
Community meetings will be held at 5 p.m. Tuesday and Wednesday in the Conway City Hall Conference Room. Seymour said design workshops with volunteers will be held May 6-24 and the painting with the help of the community will take place in June.
“We hope to dedicate it on July 1,” she said.
Karpe, 23, now a graduate student at UCA, said there are no preconceived ideas about the mural.
“The real goal of this project is that it will be inspired by the community, that people will work on it together and come to a consensus about what it will be,” said Karpe, who was born is South Korea and is the adopted son of Larry and Donna Karpe of Little Rock. “The process is as important as the product. The process is really powerful.”
Karpe lived and worked in Arkadelphia for three months as that city created its mural with the help of more than 200 community volunteers.
“I worked with Dave (Loewenstein) every day,” Karpe said. “It was the best artistic training I’ve had except for school. It was eye-opening.”
Karpe has created one mural in Conway, inside Farris Hall, the dormitory for honors students in which he lived at UCA. He said the mural at Farris Hall was his undergraduate thesis project.
“I am very interested in public art,” he said. “I like the engagement of it. For my school project, I talked to Gayle (Seymour) and to Morton (Brown). I was lucky to be able to apply for an apprenticeship to Mid-America Arts Alliance and that evolved into the apprenticeship with Dave Loewenstein in Arkadelphia. And now I have the opportunity to serve as lead artist in the Conway mural project.
“The design team and I will be there every step of the way,” Karpe said. “But the goal is to let the community do as much as possible. I really want to emphasize that we want as many people from different walks of life to participate. This is Conway’s mural.”
For more information, contact Seymour at (501) 450-3295 or firstname.lastname@example.org.