Unity-themed Franklin mural is complete

Published 5:49 pm Friday, October 20, 2023

Those driving past the State Farm-affiliated Patty Rhodes Insurance Agency on Armory Drive will be regularly invited to meditate on the concept of “unity in the community” in Franklin thanks to a now-completed mural made possible by the Virginia African American Cultural Center Inc. and the Vibe Creative District, of Virginia Beach.

The mural, painted along the side of Rhodes’ office at 1018 Armory Drive, presents the words “Unity in the Community” and “Franklin, VA,” layered over an abstract painting that suggests to viewers the image of a crowd of people gathered together.

Artist Seth Lubaton began painting the mural on Oct. 9.

“I would get here at 9, and then I’d paint till 7, just every day,” he said Monday, Oct. 16, noting that his only day off came Saturday, Oct. 14, due to rain. “I finished it up this morning, actually. I did the black frame around it to make sure it just looked tighter.”

He said it took him probably 50 hours in all, and he has painted around 50 murals across the past three-and-a-half years.

“When I first started painting murals, I always wanted to paint things that mattered, and to get to do projects like this is really cool,” he said. 

He noted that a standout element of the painting experience in Franklin was the opportunity to interact with community members during the week as he worked, which enriched the overall experience for him.

“It’s so much bigger than just me getting paid for a job,” he said. “And then every day someone now gets to drive past (the mural) and just think, ‘What can I do to unify my community?’ So those are the really cool things about doing projects like this.”

He noted that he always tells people that “the hardest and coolest thing” about abstract art is that there is no threshold for too much or too little.

“So you kind of have to look at it and be like, ‘Am I happy?’” he said. Then, answering the question with satisfaction, he added, “I think so.”

He highlighted the disparate experiences one can have in viewing the mural depending on their proximity to it.

“It’s one of those things when you stand so close, it’s like, ‘Oh, this is just a block of color,’” he said. “But then when you’re driving down the road … you’re like, ‘Is that a bunch of people?’ You know what I mean? So that’s the coolest thing about it.”

THE FUNDING AND VISION FOR THE MURAL

The VAACC, which donated $15,000 to Franklin to help fund the Juneteenth Cultural Celebration held in the city this summer, funded the mural through a grant of up to $5,000 that it received from the Virginia Tourism office.

VAACC Founder and Chairperson Dr. Amelia Ross-Hammond asked the Vibe Creative District of Virginia Beach to help establish this mural in Franklin.

ViBeCreativeDistrict.org states that the Vibe Mural Festival was created in 2018 as a call to action for the Virginia Beach community, where 10 private businesses donated wall space to host 10 new artworks. 

Officials noted that the annual event was promoted as “10 Artists, 10 Murals, 10 Days” and was hosted in the May shoulder season prior to the start of summer Memorial Day weekend. 

“The large-scale artworks lend to the neighborhood collection of public art and have visually transformed the arts district into a museum without walls,” officials said on the website.

Vibe Creative District Executive Director Kate Pittman said, “Typically we’re working within the city of Virginia Beach because that’s where our arts district is. However, we’re very excited to partner with Dr. Ross-Hammond and the Virginia African American Cultural Center who have asked us to be the partner that comes and helps to establish a mural in Franklin with them.”

THE MURAL FINDS A HOME

Rhodes, owner of Patty Rhodes Insurance Agency Inc., said she saw in The Tidewater News that the city was looking for someone willing to have the mural painted on their property.

“It literally just took a split second,” she said. “When I saw it in the paper, I just jumped on it. And then I met with (my) team, and I was like, ‘What do you guys think?’ And they were all like, ‘I think it’s incredible.’”

She good-naturedly said that the downtown area is always getting “all the good stuff,” so she thought it was really nice to be able to bring the mural to the city’s Business District.

Franklin City Manager Amanda C. Jarratt confirmed that the mural’s location is ideal because it is at one of the most heavily trafficked areas in the city and is also in proximity to Paul D. Camp Community College.

REACTIONS TO THE COMPLETED MURAL

Rhodes, Ross-Hammond, Pittman and Lubaton joined city officials Monday, Oct. 16, at 1018 Armory Drive to commemorate the completion of the mural.

“This not only shows unity in the community but unity across the cities,” said Ross-Hammond, who is also a Virginia Beach city councilwoman. “This is the first (mural) we’re doing at a different city, so this is unique.”

Pittman said, “We’re just happy to see murals transform cities all across Virginia, and so we’ve seen great success in Virginia Beach, and with the Virginia African American Cultural Center, now we’re able to do this outreach mural here in Franklin, and it’s been a beautiful partnership.

“Art can speak to people in a nonthreatening way and really change people’s thought process and their heart and their intention, and so we hope it does that here,” she added.

Franklin Mayor Robert “Bobby” Cutchins said he would like the mural “to be a daily reminder, as people drive by and see it, that unity in the community, unity in the nation, it’s all about multiple things, and it’s what it takes — we’ve all got to come together.”

Franklin Ward 3 Councilman Gregory McLemore said the mural “is a reminder of Juneteenth, because it was because of the Juneteenth Cultural Celebration that brought us together with the Virginia African American Cultural Center, and they were kind enough to go beyond supporting the event to giving us something that would be more permanent, to last. So I’m very grateful to Ms. Hammond and the Virginia African American Cultural Center for being considerate enough to donate this mural to our city.”

He later noted that Ross-Hammond is originally from Liberia, giving her a unique perspective here in the U.S.

“So she comes to America with a different attitude toward unity, and she’s a credit to the Virginia Beach City Council because her vision is to bring cities together, and I think that’s basically because of her rearing and where she comes from,” he said.

Reflecting on the process that resulted in the completed mural, Jarratt said, “It’s been great working with Kate and her team at the Vibe Creative District. She’s been really wonderful in helping find the artist and identify the image and working on the logistics. I’m just really thankful to Ms. Rhodes for offering up her space and Dr. Ross-Hammond.”