The Murals of Lake Placid - How Art Revived a Town by AnnieStrack

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									Lake Placid – the little town with the big art By Annie Strack ©2007 Many cities and towns across the nation have developed public art programs as part of their efforts to beautify their community. It’s a well documented fact that public art programs beautify communities, enhance quality of life, and have a positive economic impact on communities. Cities and towns across America are embracing public art projects and enjoying the vast benefits they provide for both artists and the local economies. One of the most successful programs is in Lake Placid, a small community of less than 2000 residents located in central Florida. When the mural program started in 1993, the town had 15 empty stores and an entire block of commercial lots left vacant from a devastating fire. Local residents Bob and Harriet Porter were the brainstorm behind an idea that would reverse the downward economic spiral of their town, and put Lake Placid on the forefront of the cultural map. In 1992 they were motorcycling across the country when they passed a charming sign in Vancouver Island, British Columbia that read “Chemainus, The little town that did.” The sign piqued their curiosity, and they decided to go to the little town to find out what they ‘did.’ What they found delighted them. Displayed throughout Chemainus they found thirty two larger than life murals depicting the history of the town. Upon further investigation, they discovered that the tiny town had once been on the brink of economic disaster after the closing of a major sawmill, which was its only industry. Needing something to revive their sinking economy, the town developed a mural program to create a new industry of tourism and culture. The program turned the economy around, and the murals now draw 400,000 tourists to the town each season. The Porters recognized the economic similarities between Chemainus and their own community, and they were inspired to propose a similar program for Lake Placid. However when they returned home to present their idea, they were met by a great deal of skepticism. They were told that it would not work; that they did not want this in their town; and that there was no money for a project of this scope. But the Porters were determined, and they pledged that they would fund the project with private and corporate donations, and they would not need any tax dollars to pay for any of it. They founded the Lake Placid Mural Society, which has been painting the town ever since. Their first mural was painted and donated by Florida artist Thomas Freeman, who was later honored with the title of Artist Laureate of Lake Placid. Since then, the Mural Society has raised the funds to add new murals each year, and has recently dedicated their 41st mural. As anticipated, the program quickly revitalized the local economy. Now, over 200 people visit the Mural Society’s visitor center daily during the tourist season, many of them arriving on busses with tour groups that are organized just to see the murals. With the average tour group spending $1500 in the town, the mural program has proven to be a resounding economic success.


Most of the tours start in the Mural Society’s gallery, where the visitors can watch a descriptive and educational video about the mural program and browse the main gallery which contains all of the original color renderings submitted by the mural artists. Gallery docents are available to answer questions and to provide guided tours, or visitors can choose strike out on their own with the help of the guide books that are available for purchase. In addition to murals, the Society has also placed other public art projects in the community. Among them are fifty large plaques ranging from one foot to three feet in size. The plaques depict various species of birds that are indigenous to the area, and were all funded through individual sponsors. Another creative endeavor has been the parade of clowns. Lake Placid is the home to Toby’s Clown School which has graduated over 600 clowns since its founding in 1990, and the town boasts more clowns per capita than any other town in Florida. The twentyseven life-sized clowns are displayed sitting on park benches and leaning against walls and fences, and are brightly painted to represent several of the local residents who are alumni of the school. An unfortunate by-product of the tremendously increased visitation to the town was an increase in litter. The town could have simply added more trash cans to the parks and sidewalks, but the Mural Society devised a solution for this as well. They came up with the idea to have artists create ingenious trash cans that would seduce visitors to use them. All of the 17 litter receptacles are designed and painted to match a nearby mural, and the clever disguises of the cans include a mini school bus, a giant stack of text books, a steam engine, and more. To make them interactive, some of the containers are equipped with related sound tracks that activate when they are used. The Mural Society has raised money for these projects by soliciting sponsorships, memberships, conducting various types of community sales, and benefit dinners. The project’s success has grown to the point that now, when a member of the community proposes a new mural, they are also asked to help raise the funds needed to execute the particular project. This hasn’t slowed the project down at all, and new murals are continually added to the town. The owners of the buildings are not required to pay for any of the cost of the murals, and there is a growing list of business owners that are waiting to participate in the program. The Society selects the buildings for the murals based on size and location, and tries to keep all of the murals within walking distance of the downtown area. The society researches each new mural request to insure that it meets its mission to provide scenes that significantly reflect the local history of the area. Over the years they have amassed a list of artists, and they choose an artist from their pool based on individual style and experience and provide them with information about the subject so they can submit a proposal. The selected artist initially submits a black and white drawing of their proposed design for acceptance, and then a full color painting suitable for hanging in the gallery that depicts the final design. Many of the artists transfer their drawings onto the walls using projectors at night, and some choose to draw their designs on the wall free-hand. The society prepares the walls for painting and provides the artists with custom paints that have been specially formatted to withstand fading 2

and weather. After the mural is completed, the Society coats each mural with several layers of clear UV coating, which is reapplied every two years for added protection. The Society strives to keep all of their projects looking fresh and new, and murals are repainted quickly as soon as they begin to show any signs of fading or deterioration. The costs for each project vary greatly depending on the size, complexity, and materials. Many of the murals have integrated sound systems added to them, which are activated by motion detectors to make them more interactive with viewers. The Cracker Trail Cattle Drive mural plays a continuous sound loop of cracking whips, thundering hooves, lowing cattle, and sharp whistles and calls that make the viewer feel as though they were part of the cattle drive themselves. At thirty feet tall and 175 feet wide, the added sound feature allows the viewer to experience the panorama with added senses and envelopes them in the scene. The largest and most complex of the all the murals, this one also required a bit of creativity to finance. Extra money was raised through a 48 hour radio broadcasting marathon atop a 30 foot tall scaffolding, a steak dinner fundraiser sponsored by the Highlands County Cattleman’s Association, an art auction, and a fashion show. Still, the Mural Society fell short of enough funds to finish the mural. The Society raised the last of the needed funds by selling sponsorships of the individual painted steers to local ranchers, and adding their brands onto the animals in the mural. On another mural, a steam engine on the side of the train depot is painted to appear as if it is heading straight towards the viewer, and the mural plays the sounds of a moving train complete with the sounds of escaping steam and whistles. Actual railroad track is laid out on the ground at the base of the mural to give the impression that the train can drive right off the wall, and the addition of working lights on a crossing sign complete the illusion. Other murals have birds that sing, bears that growl, and bees that buzz. The Mural Society publishes a color catalog depicting the murals and other art projects, and sells these books in their visitor center and at 27 other locations in the community. Each year they publish 10,000 new catalogs to satisfy demand and to add to the growing list of new art projects. These catalogs make for wonderful souvenirs, and are also designed to be used as guide books for the visitors. To help keep the purchase price low at only three dollars each, and to offset the printing costs, the Society also sells display ads in the catalogs to local merchants. They also produced and sell a 10 minute video of the projects, as well as postcards and other items to help raise funds for the program. The artists are paid for their work and they also receive a tremendous amount of marketing exposure through the program, with credits and information listed on the Society’s website and in all of their printed materials. Additionally, over a hundred other towns and communities have asked the Society for information about creating mural programs to revitalize their own sagging economies, and the society recommends the artists that they have worked with for these programs, as well. Although many of the artists who participated in the mural program hail from all over the country, the program has made this small town a cultural destination, and their booming arts economy boosts the local artists, as well. Galleries and boutiques now fill what were once empty storefronts, providing local artists with new venues and opportunities. The town has a very active art league, and a huge arts and crafts cooperative that fills a 10,000 sq. ft. building. The visitors who come for the murals also shop at the local galleries, and opportunities for art classes 3

and workshops have expanded. Some tour companies are even offering packages that include lessons in mural painting as part of their tours. For many years, Lake Placid has been known as the “Caladium Capital of the World” due to the vast commercial fields that produce 98% of the world’s supply of caladiums. Since the inception of the public art program, the town has now become known as the “Town of Murals” as well. In both 1995 and 1996 the town was awarded the title of “Outstanding Rural Community of the Year” in honor of the mural program. The outstanding success of the Lake Placid program has led to many other towns adopting similar programs, and led to the development of the Florida “Trail of Murals” which includes over a dozen other mural communities. For more information about the Lake Placid Mural Society, visit

### Thousands of communities have developed successful mural programs to spark their economies. Here is a listing of some that we found with websites, where you can go to learn more details. Lake Placid Mural Society, Conlee Mural Committee, Palatka, Florida Ludington Mural Society, Michegan Milton Mural Society, Florida, Lake Wales Mural Project, Florida, Punta Gorda Mural Society, Florida, Brooksville Mural Society, Florida, Florida Trail of Murals, Prescott, Arizona, Manteca, California, Bishop, California, Lompoc, California, Cayucos, California, Santa Rosa, California, Napa Valley, California, California Public Art and Mural Society, Twentynine Palms, California, Santa Cruz, California, Rancho Cucamonga, California, Long Beach, California, Indio, California, Santa Paula, California, Sterling, Illinois, Chicago, Illinois, Chicago, Illinois, 4

DeKalb, Illinois, Rock Rapids, Iowa, Baltimore, Maryland, Chillicothe, Missouri, Cuba, Missouri, Oneonta, New York, Oswego, New York, Ely, Nevada, Vale, Oregon, Portland, Oregon, Silverton, Oregon, The Dalles, Oregon, Alva, Oklahoma, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, Pennsylvania College of Arts and Design, Swamp Fox Trail Mural Society, South Carolina, San Antonio, Texas, King County, Washington, Vancouver, Washington, National Society of Mural Painters, Chemainus, BC, Canada, Creston, BC, Canada, British Columbia, Canada, Sussex, New Brunswick, Canada, Toronto, Canada, Winnipeg, Canada, Pembroke, Ontario, Canada, Mural Routes of Canada, Hong Kong, China, This article was first published in Art Calendar Magazine. A professional artist specializing in seascapes and maritime paintings, Annie Strack is a signature member of 5 artist societies and is an Official Authorized Artist for the US Coast Guard. She draws from her experiences in her previous career in corporate management to build a successful art career, and shares her knowledge and expertise of business and marketing in her articles for Art Calendar magazine, the premier business magazine for professional artists. Visit her web site and also check out


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