How murals are helping students and local businesses in downtown Harlan

Published: Jun. 24, 2019 at 10:40 PM EDT
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Art in education and art in business are two connections being made this week in downtown Harlan.

As part of the Workforce Development Program through Southeast Kentucky Community and Technical College, dozens of people are painting giant murals in the city.

This is only the second year of the Great Mountain Mural and Community Design Mega Fest.

For the artists bringing the images to life, it is so much more than brush strokes on brick.

"They did workshops on how to run your business and how to negotiate contracts as well as workshops on specific techniques of installing murals and different styles", said Carrie Billet, who is the Project Coordinator through Southeast Kentucky Community and Technical College.

For muralist, Ryan Coots, this is personal.

The Harlan County native takes pride knowing he is helping bring new life to downtown Harlan.

"People hear that local people did it and think, 'well, maybe I could do that'. And so there's an inspiration level to it. There's a draw of people to it. You know, you're driving down the street ", said Coots. "And you see this giant salamander on the wall and you drive closer. Maybe you see that you want, 'oh, I'm hungry now that I'm here. Let's eat downtown'."

And the people who own these buildings agree. They say it might help bring more people downtown, possibly helping local businesses.

"We're trying to rebuild our downtowns, like many other communities", said April Collins, who owns one of the buildings where a mural was painted. "And this just brings attention, it brings some bright color, something to get everybody talking about, just brings a little life to downtown."

The volunteers who help design and paint the murals include students from the local college and high school, possibly the next generation of mountain artists.

"I had one young lady come up to me crying. She said she didn't realize that was a possibility in Eastern Kentucky", said Lacy Hale, who is one of the lead artists. "You know, working with the high school students at Harlan County High School and talking to some of them, they were just so amazed that an artist could live here and work here and make a living here and stay here."

This year's Mural Fest includes four murals painted on two buildings.

The theme for the artwork is flora and fauna.

The event will wrap up Wednesday.

Organizers hope to make it a yearly event.