At the recent dedication of the magnificent mural that wraps completely around the AT&T building on MLK Boulevard and the presentation by muralist Meg Saligman that followed, I took my seat, eager to hear how she and a small group of local artists created this monumental mural. As I sat down, I kept thinking that the man sitting next to me seemed oddly familiar.
The mural, "The M.L. King Mural: We Will Not be Satisfied Until," is the largest mural in the Southeastern U.S. and one of the top five largest murals in the county, covering 42,000 square feet. I enjoyed watching the mural progress from a computer-generated grid on the bare walls, to a numbered chalk drawing, to painted backgrounds and then finally to elaborate portraits and scenery. This drab building slowly changed into a brilliant icon for the city of Chattanooga, telling the stories of the people and places in our community.
Images in the mural are inspired by Dr. Martin Luther King’s "I Have a Dream Speech," and real stories of people and places of Chattanooga depict the past, present and future vision for Chattanooga.
Each side of the building offers its own theme; for example, the MLK Boulevard wall imagines present day Chattanooga as it looks toward the future, while the Houston Street wall represents transformation in Chattanooga, past and future. Looking closely, you can see the Tennessee River, a nighttime scene of Chattanooga, images of Lookout Mountain, the Chattanooga landscape, the changing direction of MLK Boulevard and Bessie Smith dancing, just to name a few.
The people painted in the mural are real present day Chattanooga people selected by the artists. This gets me back to why the man sitting next to me seemed so familiar. His name is Cleon Coleman, a local business man, and I recognized him because he is the man the artists painted in the mural to represent "looking out … standing tall and proud."
The mural is awesome! It is such a fantastic testament to the important role that public art can play in contributing to neighborhood beautification and growth.
Download a copy of a brochure (PDF) that explains the process of this mural and outlines the meaning of each and every image you see. Then, go park your car nearby, walk around and look closely. You will be awed.
By the way, there are four hidden number "9s" throughout the mural. Can you spot them? They pay homage to when MLK Boulevard was called Ninth Street or "the Big Nine."