Painting a picture of Jefferson City’s unique history and culture. 

Word choice matters in storytelling. And with its history and culture, Jefferson City has an abundance of stories to share. These stories are what makes this town unique, bringing a sense of pride and ownership to our community. But with the overwhelming amount of words bombarding us every day, perhaps the challenge isn’t so much the story delivery as it is catching the reader’s attention in the first place.
How do we overcome this word overload obstacle? That’s easy — images. Our brains process images 60,000 times faster than words. A picture is literally worth a thousand words. If we want to share Jefferson City’s unique stories more effectively, we can transform those words into images and paint them on a wall in a public space for all to see. We can create murals.

JCMO has several murals that exemplify the power of visual storytelling. One of the most recent installations, located on Madison Street, portrays past people, businesses, and buildings of the Southside area. The mural series imagery, like other murals throughout the city, adds to the quality of life, celebrates our community’s diversity, and enriches our built environment. Before the art piece was installed, passersby on Madison Street were greeted with windows boarded up with plywood. The once gloomy and unremarkable facade now welcomes its visitors with vibrant images that foster civic engagement and discourse.
And there’s something else about those visitors. People spend more time and money where they feel welcome and safe. That economic development and growth snowballs — attracting talent, industry, and more visitors.
With all these positives, why don’t we see more art around town? One hindrance is in the logistics. If the planned mural location is along the city’s right-of-way, the mural must have an approval process. Right-of-way is any designated public transportation thoroughfare, including streets, sidewalks, and the Greenway Trail. The Department of Planning and Protective Services administers a mural permit application process to ensure that any mural located on a right-of-way meets design and construction standards.
From idea to installation, the steps to getting a mural approved can be extensive:

  • Find a wall
  • Determine a muralist
  • Design the mural
  • Agree on payment terms with the muralist
  • Complete a mural permit application
  • Attend a public hearing to allow input from surrounding property owners

In addition to logistics, there’s another challenge: Some people simply don’t want them. Their reasons are the same as those who support public murals. Some perceive murals as having a negative impact on the surrounding environment. Not everyone is going to like the idea of murals increasing visitors in their neighborhoods, as it can present concerns of privacy and security. Or, simply put, some may not see the point of public art.

Several groups work together to address the above questions and concerns to improve public mural policies and procedures. The Jefferson City Parks, Recreation, and Forestry Department has dedicated staff in its arts and outreach division who implement its own community arts initiatives and connect individuals and community organizations with public art projects and acquisitions. JC Parks cultural arts specialist Leann Porrello says that one of her main responsibilities is making those connections. 

“It takes a group of people to make public art happen, from the city to the artist and several others in between,” Leann says. “I enjoy connecting those dots, connecting our people to the stories on our walls.”

Porrello is also staff liaison for the Cultural Arts Commission, a citizen board made up of local residents appointed by the mayor. The CAC has been instrumental in placing public murals and sculptures in recent years, including “Playing on the Breeze” on Capitol Avenue and “Dancing Forest Animals” at McClung Park — both completed in 2021. CAC members have also worked with Jefferson City City Council and other city departments to review city code, recommending amendments to improve government processes as it pertains to public murals. Recently, CAC has launched, a website promoting cultural arts in Jefferson City. Features include a public art map, artist resources, cultural arts events, calls to artists, and more.

Beyond the public sector, Jefferson City has other local organizations that play a vital role in the public art scene. One such group leading the charge is the Jefferson City Arts Foundation. The nonprofit organization exists to enrich the city by promoting the cultural arts in its many forms. JCAF played a lead role in installing the Madison Street mural, commissioning Alex Eickhoff to paint the three-mural series. And according to Lucia Kincheloe, chair of the Jefferson City Arts Foundation, they have more public art projects and programs to enrich community culture.

“Along with the Madison Street mural, we’re also in the process of installing six informative panels along the Greenway in and around Community Park that depicts the history of the Foot District,” Lucia says. “We received support from several organizations on the project: MODOT, Ameren Missouri, Central Bank, NAACP, Chapel Law, JC Parks, Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Gamma Epsilon Omega, and Ivy FD of Jefferson City. The foundation also raises funds for local art projects and programs through the annual Holy Guacamole competition and the Ice Cream Splash event.”

The stories told, the relationships built, the unique cultures celebrated — murals are more than paint on a wall. The next time you’re gazing upon one of Jefferson City’s murals, take some time to notice its surroundings and the people to whom it brings joy. While murals may not be beneficial to every neighborhood or business area, organizations are working to show the community, and its visitors, a glimpse into Jefferson City’s story. 

“It takes a group of people to make public art happen, from the city to the artist and several others in between.”
—Leann Porrello