The last year marked many changes for Manchester. One of the more prominent changes included the many new art installments in the city as it began to catch mural fever. The biggest driving force behind the newest installments is DMA-events, a grassroots for-profit dedicated to improve Coffee County.
In 2018, the group, led by husband and wife duo Scott van Velsor and Kristin Luna, invested about $14,000 into art for the community. This includes the Southern Magnolia mural on Jim Wheeler's Construction building in the downtown square, the dragonfly, American Eel and Love Script writing on the greenway, and the Manchester postcard mural on the side of John Hershman’s building on Hillsboro Boulevard.
The art installments, especially those on the greenway, have an added benefit – Bonnie Gamble, Recreation Department director, said traffic along the greenway has increased ever since the murals went up.
“I don’t have numbers, but I observed that after the mural went up, more people were walking the greenway I think to look at the murals,” Gamble said.
Because of this, DMA-events is working with the Recreation Commission to continue the upward trend in participation.
“That is why we are putting together a grant application to the Tennessee Arts Commission for their Creative Placemaking Grant for funding for more murals visible from the greenway, The goal is creating an Art Walk,” Gamble explained.
“We are applying for $8,000 to match with $2,000 for total project of $10,000. It would be to add murals possibly on the railroad bridge between Fred Deadman and Dave King Park and the outside of the Babe Ruth dugout or press box,” she added.
As far as future projects, van Velsor and Luna have ideas, but aren’t ready to release them to public yet.
“A lot of stuff we’re going to do is county-wide, not just Manchester,” van Velsor said. He explained that they are open to and are looking into projects in Tullahoma as well.
They did hint that more art is on the way, as well as more public events.
In addition to the murals, DMA-events hosted Road Riot, which was a hot-rod car show, and River Romp this past year, two events the pair wants to bring back in 2019.
The hot rod show, which occurred on May 19, was a partnership with DMA-events between Freedom Automotive, West Main Brick Oven (now closed), Mid-TN Vapor Shop and Toliver’s Pawn shop. It shut down the downtown square for a few hours that day and drew in a large crowd to admire the 50-100 cars.
When the pair started DMA-events on Mother’s Day 2018, Luna said a year ago, they didn’t know this was in the cards for them. It was a rocky start – their first mural, the Southern Magnolia, sparked controversy that garnered attention from all over the region. In May, van Velsor approached the Historical Zoning Commission and got approval to paint John Wheeler’s building, located at 121 S. Spring St. At the time, the city did not have mural guidelines.
Thinking he had the approval he needed, artist Tarabella Aversa began to paint the American flag mural with a magnolia woven inside of it. The HZC was appalled by this and fought back, ordering Aversa to stop what she was doing until they could approve mural guidelines. Aversa kept painting, even after having the police called on her.
The controversy died almost immediately after the mural was completed and the HZC began creating mural guidelines in response.
Despite this rough start, Luna and van Velsor were more determined than ever to bring art to the county.
“Seven months later, through supporters like First National Bank of Manchester - Member FDIC, Coffee County Bank, Wheeler Construction & Restoration, L & H Distributing Company, Inc, Volunteer Paint & Decorating and so many individuals in addition to our own bank accounts and personal sweat, we’ve poured $13,637 directly into the arts for this community. We’re dedicated to tripling that effort in 2019,” the pair wrote in their DMA-events year end statement.
“We appreciate every last one of you who has attended one of our events, contributed money to the cause, sent us private messages, whispered encouragement or posted our work on social media,” they continued in the statement. “Engagement is the most crucial aspect of our generation, and now is not the time to sit back and be complacent with the status quo “this how things always have been” or to wonder if you can make a difference through even the smallest public act. You can, and you will. Keep it up, y’all—we’ve got your back.”