JOHNSON CITY, Tenn. (WJHL) — Johnson City’s public art offerings are getting a very visible boost this spring and summer with the addition of four large murals, including two that city commissioners are set to approve Thursday night.
Local artist Leigh Ann Agee and Miami-based Ernesto Maranje were selected by the Johnson City Public Art Committee for commissioned works at two high-visibility intersections. If approved, their projects will follow one completed last month at North Roan Street’s I-26 underpass by Felipe Ortiz and another set to begin next week — a bluegrass and Appalachian-themed mural on several sides of a building at Commerce and West Main streets.
“I think the community is really responding in positive ways,” said Cole Hendrix, a longtime public art committee member who chairs the mural subcommittee. “Some of the comments I read on the North Roan Project about people saying they were happy to be stuck in traffic to have something pretty to look at — for once they wanted to slow down, so I think that tells a lot.”
Agee’s mural is slated for a long wall that borders the Legion Street swimming pool property and extends along both Legion and Main streets. Agee was raised in Bristol but lived away from the Tri-Cities for years after beginning her mural-painting career locally, where she did several public school works in Johnson City.
The self-taught artist said she’s excited about the whimsical, animal-themed “Dog Days” project she’s doing in collaboration with mosaic artist Melissa Wiley, who’s also local.
“It kind of adds a little bling when you drive by, because it adds a glassy look to it,” Agee said of Wiley’s contribution.
She said she’s impressed by the changes she’s seen in the area since moving back six years ago.
“I love it and I think that Johnson City’s looking amazing,” Agee said. “I’m just super stoked to have been chosen to do that one.”
A couple miles from Agee’s work, which is set to be installed late this summer, Maranje will paint a nature scene on two walls of Johnson City’s Fire Station No. 4. One wall faces University Parkway, the other West Market street.
Hendrix said putting large works at high-traffic locations is a very cost-effective way to use public art. The two projects up for approval Thursday cost less than $60,000 combined compared to large-scale sculptures that can cost six figures each.
“I think murals make an incredible impact because of their size,” she said. “I think in general public art just enhances our communities. It makes them more livable, more humane — I think art kind of just grounds us and brings out our best selves.”
Hendrix said 2022 has been a very rewarding year for mural work the public art committee began on about seven years ago. The first mural, Ian Brownlee’s “Wildabout,” went up in 2017 on a wall next to King Commons Park, but COVID-19 slowed progress.
“I think it’s an absolutely wonderful first project for us, and since then we have just gained incredible momentum,” she said. “We have had so much support from the public and from our city government and we’ve just kept rolling with it.”
Hendrix said Steven Teller will begin work on his Appalachian-themed mural next week at Commerce and Main. Maranje’s work is set for installation at the fire station in July, while Agee’s piece should be installed in late August or early September.