Creativity is Contagious: Art in Public Spaces

As a young budding artist growing up in NSB, I don’t remember seeing art outside of gallery spaces. My family would take me to museums, festivals and art shows to see the world from a larger perspective. I was blessed to be able to go to the Smithsonian, visit all of the historic places in Washington D.C., enjoy free music concerts while we sat on our blankets as a family and I traveled to all of the National Parks with my grandfather when I was nine years old. 

As a young adult I traveled across the country selling my art as a professional artist. That’s when I finally stumbled upon this massive masterpiece on the front of a business that totally stopped me in my tracks. I was used to seeing artists sell their works in markets or in gallery spaces but this was different. No artist was around and no one was selling anything. I went inside to ask the business to ask the owner to introduce me to the artist.

Public Murals and their Effect on the Community

A couple days later I met the artist. Out of the business walks this small woman with the brightest personality. She told me her life’s journey and why she started painting murals. Three hours later we were still talking and walking through the neighborhood. This experience changed my life forever. I never ruled out being able to paint a mural but my first one would have to be the perfect space. I’ve always been a little weird. I would picture structures in the community with paintings on them in my mind. 

While living in Houston, I saw seven small houses built for the purpose of the kids in the after-school program to use as a playhouse. I painted these small houses with a theme of one of the programs offered at Project Row Houses (the community organization that sponsored the after school program). I painted a replica of a John Biggers painting. John Biggers was a famous Houston artist that painted the similarities of Africans and the African experience in America.

One day I was wandering around Pettis Park in New Smyrna Beach and found this beautiful spot that I was drawn to every day for three months. During those three months I thought about my first experience with that artist and her murals. She told me when I found the right spot I wouldn’t be able to sleep at night. She said choose an image that will set the tone for future paintings and just like in your professional art career, collectors can identify your style. 

Local Artist’s Mural Project in Southeast Volusia County

I thought it would be awesome to bring my love of relationship-building, education, history and art into one mural. One of my favorite stories follows the life of Harriet Tubman and her partnerships with the abolitionists of the north. They used the art of quilt-making as an unspoken language to help runaways of the south to freedom. I was excited to start painting this mural but was surprised that no one would paint with me. I found out that most of the community thought I was going to jail for painting on the sidewalk. Once they realized that it was an approved project, more people started participating in the mural project. It is one of the things that I love the most about being an artist; educating the community about being an artist and the importance of having art in public spaces. The joy of painting something this large brought to participants was overwhelmingly therapeutic. Since then, I’ve painted almost 20 murals in NSB.

I often wondered if I’d get the chance to paint another mural? Then something very strange happened – COVID-19. Everyone was quarantined to their homes and wanted to add beauty to their living spaces. An elderly neighbor asked me to paint her a sunflower outside her front window. Her bedroom window was facing a brick wall. So I came over and painted her a beautiful sunflower. She asked me if I would post it to social media so others could see her beautiful flower. I posted it the same night and went to sleep. 

I was really very exhausted from everything that was happening in the world and in our local community. I was furloughed, my kids were home and I was not sure about how we would survive this global pandemic. When I woke up the next morning, the sunflower went viral. It had over 100 shares. That next day, I met with Nejma of Nejma’s Boutique on Flagler Avenue. She also wanted a sunflower painted on her business in the parking lot. I went over to start sketching out her sunflower and Fox 35 News called me to do a story about positive things happening in the community. After the segment aired, I had so many murals people want me to come and do at their homes. I’m so happy to be in a position to share what I love to do with others in our community. I love the title Visual Communicator. Art adds value to anything it’s placed on. Having the option to visit a gallery or creating a driving tour of murals around the city are both great ways to celebrate the arts.

Here are the locations of a few murals of mine that you can see around NSB:

  • Pettis Park Freedom Quilt, 800 Mary Ave. (by the racquetball court in the lounge area, under the big oak trees)
  • Alonzo Babe James Community Center – “Unite,” 203 N. Myrtle Ave. (atrium)
  • Ruthy’s Kozy Kitchen, 618 Canal Street (east wall)
  • “Mermaid,” 403 Faulkner St.
  • Nejma’s Boutique, 319 Flagler Ave.
  • 322 Jessamine Ave.
  • Swanky Chic Salon, 125 Orange St.

“Art enables us to find ourselves and lose ourselves at the same time.”

Thomas Merton

Shy Morris, native to NSB for four generations, and a lover of all things positive. Her art has carried her around the world and her award winning STEAAM curriculum has inspired and empowered 1000s of youth in Volusia County. Shy loves everything community and loves to see kids thriving with high self esteem, great values and ready to be productive citizens.

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