Muralist Tyler Kay Reichert, lower left, paints her panel for a series of murals facing West 31st Street in Downtown Bryan.
Downtown Bryan is about to get a whole lot artsier, thanks to five new murals on the side of the Conlee-Garrett Moving and Storage building that faces West 31st Street.
Sarah Norman and Katie Neason first started thinking about murals in Bryan in December 2014 after their real estate agency, Renovation Wranglers, purchased property and built townhomes on West 31st Street, a few blocks from downtown. Norman said the part of the building facing the property was a big, blank wall that presented the city with an opportunity to have a public art gallery.
Partnering with the Downtown Bryan Association, Norman and Neason started West 31st Street Murals, putting out a call for submissions of possible murals that would represent the city’s past or present. Norman said they sorted through 15 applications, choosing five muralists — Cliff Collard, Mick Burson, Sarah Blackmon, Calina Mishay Johnson and Tyler Kay Reichert — to represent Bryan’s commerce, culture and community. There will be five murals in total, several of which are already completed. The finished works will be formally unveiled during the September First Friday in Downtown Bryan.
Norman said the murals will be a “good drive-by art gallery” that could “bring people downtown who otherwise wouldn’t be.”
“We just thought it would be so great if people would drive by and stop to take their picture [by the murals],” Norman said. “Our goal is first and foremost to get more people down here.”
In addition to bringing people downtown, Neason said the new art will “give people in the townhomes something to look at,” and that they are “definitely better to look at than having to look at a concrete wall.”
Sandy Farris, executive director of the Downtown Bryan Association, said the new art will act as a cultural magnet that could attract more people to the area.
“I always refer to Downtown Bryan as ‘the community’s living room,'” Farris said of the culturally eclectic local hub, whose “geographical area is getting bigger.”
“I think these murals are going to be a destination in and of themselves,” Farris added.
Farris said Downtown Bryan is a cultural district, as designated by the state’s Commission on the Arts, and that the collection of art displayed inside local businesses in addition to the outdoor murals “ties together and creates a really great atmosphere.”
There are already several outdoor displays throughout downtown, Farris said, “but nothing on this scale,” referring to the 31st Street murals.
Reichert, one of the five muralists, said her piece will feature two pictures of Bryan side-by-side, separated by a ribbon: a representation of the city “then” — in black and white — and “now” — depicted in color.
Reichert started painting this past week, and plans on being done in two weeks total. She paints from sunrise until 11:30 a.m., then takes a break to avoid the sun until about 3:30 p.m., then paints until dark. Reichert spent a year at Blinn College pursuing an economics degree, but switched her major and left town after deciding on a different career path. That formative year made a big mark on her life, and now she’s returning the favor by leaving a literal mark in Downtown Bryan.
“It’s cool to come back here,” Reichert said. “I never thought I’d be muraling Bryan when I was an economics major here.”
Blackmon, who lives in North Bryan and also is finishing up a mural downtown, said her piece will be in the shape of a boot, within which will be iconic downtown fixtures such as the La Salle Hotel and the Queen Theater.
“I included all the things that have meaning to the people who live in Bryan,” Blackmon said.
Johnson, another muralist, is already done with her piece, a black and white drawing of a small boy, flowers, a horse and the saying, “Wherever you go, go with all your heart.”
Johnson is a professional street artist who travels across the state with her husband, Kevin, to create art that’s representative of the community in which she works. She said she’d been creating projects in the western part of the state, and though she has no local connection to Bryan, she was excited to make her way east to complete another project in a place smaller than major cities such as Austin or Houston.
Street art is one many cultural signifiers of large urban areas. Faraway cities like Philadelphia, Cleveland and Pittsburgh — as well as Texas cities such as Austin, Dallas and San Antonio — are filled with murals and street artistry, artistic tattoos that dot the cultural landscapes. But Johnson said that in those big cities, people can drive by and not give the art much more than a passing glance, “but in a small town, everyone takes part in it, and it inspires them.”
Johnson grew up in a small Texas town — Rule, population 623 — that contained a mural painted by a local artist.
“He was the artist, the one, I knew growing up. For a small-town person, you don’t get to see as much, so what you do see can have a big impact,” Johnson said.