Street Art Society of Northeastern Pennsylvania working on more building murals and mobile tour phone app

Murals have been popping up on West Side buildings through the Street Art Society of Northeastern Pennsylvania, and more are on the way, said Amy Bezek, vice president of the nonprofit’s board.

A phone app showcasing murals also is in the works with funding Luzerne County Council provided as part of the federal American Rescue Plan.

“We’ve had such a positive reaction,” Bezek said. “Once the first phase was completed, it was so much easier to get people to support us because they’re seeing this ripple effect of what art does to a community.”

A small group of art lovers and community activists formed the nonprofit in 2018, determined to turn plain walls into head-turning expressions. Eventually, the organization would like to expand to some sculptures and public botanical installations, Bezek said.

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The mission is improving the “aesthetic and cultural value of communities in Northeastern Pennsylvania.”

“Our vision is to develop a forward-thinking attitude about the power of art, to connect people with their environment and brighten their day,” Bezek said.

The nonprofit’s first phase, which wrapped up in 2021, involved 10 murals and was funded through a $50,000 casino-gambling Local Share Account, or LSA, allocation. LSA requests must be submitted through certain entities, including municipalities, and this one was sponsored by Edwardsville.

Artists created murals in Edwardsville, Kingston and Luzerne, most with Pennsylvania-based nature themes.

The artists, supplies and lift equipment are paid through grants and fundraisers, and there are no expenses to the building owner, Bezek said. She stressed the nonprofit itself is made of unpaid volunteers.

In the second phase, Pringle borough sponsored the LSA application, and the nonprofit ended up receiving $45,000 to complete five murals in Pringle, Forty Fort, Exeter and Wyoming. All murals should be completed this year, Bezek said.

Kingston sponsored the third-phase LSA application, and the $50,000 award will cover multiple murals, mostly in the municipality, she said. Locations are still under consideration. This phase must be completed by the end of June 2025, although Bezek is optimistic the paintings will be finished by fall 2024.

Fort Fort agreed to sponsor the fourth phase, which can’t begin until the LSA awards are announced next year to determine if the nonprofit is a recipient, she said.

The nonprofit is seeking $22,870, which should be enough to cover murals on two commercial buildings and two Wyoming Valley Levee system pump stations, Bezek said.

Because the funding request is less than anticipated, plans to possibly add a mural on a portion of the levee facing the Susquehanna River have been halted, Bezek said. The Luzerne County Flood Protection Authority board, which oversees the levee system, unanimously voted last month to work with the nonprofit on suitable sites for murals.

The county’s $33,000 American Rescue award to the nonprofit will create a mobile tour app encouraging residents and visitors to check out all murals, she said. The app will mention details about each mural and point out nearby restaurants, ice cream shops and small businesses.

The nonprofit is awaiting several bids from entities interested in designing the app, she said.

For now, information about some of the murals and artists is available on the nonprofit’s website, https://streetartsocietynepa.org/.

Bezek observed residents watching murals come to life, sometimes bringing lawn chairs to enjoy the artists at work. She also spotted people posing in photographs with the murals as a backdrop.

“You can tell it really brings people’s spirits up,” she said.

One of the nature-themed murals depicting brook trout — the state fish —is on a wall of Chuck’s Diner on Main Street in Luzerne. It was created by artist Maggie Willis.

Chuck Dekmar, owner of the eatery for 12 years, said he helped select the artist rendering of brook trout because the fish is native to the nearby Toby Creek. The mural has been “very, very well received” by the public, he said.

“The colors are deep and beautiful. I have so much respect for artists,” Dekmar said.

At Beyond Behavior Consulting on Wyoming Avenue in Fort Fort, a mural shows children at play, including one taking a photograph with the camera incorporated into a still-used window. This piece was painted by HaveAArt, or Grayson Rogers.

“We work with children with autism, and it’s nice the artist incorporated kids,” said Jen Biscotto, the company’s clinical director. “We’ve had positive reaction from the clients and staff.”

The mural also drew more attention to the business itself, Biscotto said, noting new clients sometimes ask if it is the building with the mural.

Bezek said the nonprofit hears similar feedback from other mural hosts.

“The business owners say it is helping them,” she said.

Inspired by the nonprofit’s work so far, a few building owners have opted to commission their own murals, she said.

“A lot of privately funded murals are happening now since this started,” Bezek said.

Reach Jennifer Learn-Andes at 570-991-6388 or on Twitter @TLJenLearnAndes.

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