When Alan Keck was campaigning for the office of mayor, one of the key issues of his platform was the revitalization of the Downtown Somerset area.
Quite frankly, for years downtown had suffered, as the focus shifted to the U.S. 27 business district. Downtown businesses were not thriving. The area did not look good. And not a whole lot was being done to turn that around.
But since Keck has been elected, things are looking up with numerous events and projects that have finally shined a positive light on the downtown area.
One of those successful projects, in our view, is the artwork that has popped up in the form of murals.
Not that murals in Somerset are a new thing.
We are proud of the mural that adorns the Commonwealth Journal building — a depiction of two of Kentucky’s all-time great journalists, George Joplin III, the former owner and publisher of the CJ, and current editor emeritus Bill Mardis. That artwork was unveiled in 2013.
Local artist Tyrone Vetter, who created the CJ mural, also did a wonderful piece that decorates the retaining wall at the Carnegie Community Arts Center. That was produced in 2014.
But lately, art on local structures has become more commonplace.
The painting of the late musician John Prine, produced by local artist Josh Mitcham, is on the wall of Jarfly Brewing Company and commemorates Prine’s legendary 2018 Master Musicians Festival performance.
The Somerset-Pulaski Chamber of Commerce has a sprawling mural on its wall at the corner of East Mt. Vernon Street and Central. That brilliant piece was created by area artist Jordan Justice. Justice has also been commissioned by SPEDA and several partners to do a mural celebrating Somerset’s agriculture and railroad heritage. That piece of art will grace the old Food Fair building and will face the new Farmer’s Market — another smashing success of the Keck Administration. Justice’s mural for SPEDA is set to be unveiled next month.
Local artist Amanda Brooks utilized her immense talent to spruce up the Rocky Hollow basketball courts, and God’s Food Pantry. The art is breathtaking.
And, finally, the talented duo of Tyler Whitaker and Bryan Landon II designed a mural that was placed at the Energy Center.
It is the latter that created some controversy — in that mural, which is painted on the sidewalk at the Energy Center, is an American flag. The flag is a fine depiction and was included as a nod to our community’s commitment to patriotism.
But the flag was on the ground. And some veterans are reportedly not happy — and that led to several city councilors being not happy as well.
The whole thing came to a head last week at the Somerset City Council meeting, with Keck being chastised over the Energy Center mural. To his credit, Keck took responsibility, listened and heard the complaints and said he would make things right — at no cost to the city.
While we understand that an artistic depiction of a flag is a gray area — after all, we can buy caps, shirts, underwear and string bikinis that feature the flag in some form — we will defer to the veterans on this topic. If they say it’s disrespectful, then let’s correct the image and move forward.
But even after Keck said he would make things right, city councilor John Ricky Minton persisted with his lambasting of not only the mayor, but of the local artwork itself.
Minton said one passerby through the downtown area commented it was like “driving through a comic book.” The beauty of art, like anything else, is in the eye of the beholder. Would you rather look at dingy old buildings — their mortar and bricks bare — or had you rather see something interesting? We will go with the latter, thank you very much. Although some might disagree.
And Minton’s remark that compared the murals to urban-area graffiti left in the wake of recent protests was both disrespectful to the local arts community and racially insensitive.
We are happy to see elected officials speak out, rather than sitting on their hands and rubber-stamping policy. Minton has long been a voice for his constituents — and we truly don’t think he meant to say anything with racial undertones. But the remark could certainly be taken that way. It has been taken that way. And that’s unfortunate since the comment was unnecessary.
One point that was made by several councilors we do agree with is this: Communication could’ve been better on the arts initiative — with a price-tag of $4,500 covering several different projects.
We think it is money well spent — but councilors are elected by the people to weigh in on city spending. They probably should have had the opportunity to do so in this case.
But to dismiss the work that’s been done as cartoonish and graffiti-like is uncalled for and every bit as disrespectful (or more so) than an image of the American flag on the ground.
Watershed Arts Alliance President Amanda Balltrip told the Commonwealth Journal that “(p)ublic art endeavors are a sign of a vibrant, healthy town. A vibrant arts community is a sign of a healthy economy as well.”
That’s what we see when we drive into town. Not a comic book, but a healthy, thriving, progressive community. That’s worth a second look by any beholder’s eye.
THE COMMONWEALTH JOURNAL EDITORIAL BOARD consists of Mark Walker, General Manager; Jeff Neal, Editor; Steve Cornelius, Sports Editor; Bill Mardis, Editor Emeritus; Mary Ann Flynn, Advertising; Shirley Randall, Production; and Christopher Harris, Staff Writer.