Visually Speaking: Mural Art

Anna Horsnell

Big, bold, and beautiful. These are just some of the comments praising the new centennial mural recently completed in the Town of Berwick. It’s hard to miss. Prominently located on Commercial Street, the new mural highlights distinct features of the community commemorating the town’s incorporation in 1923. In fact, murals are starting to colour towns across the province. I sat down with artist Kristen De Palma of KDP Letters who, in collaboration with fellow artist Jake Seibert of Talking Wall Designs, designed and created the newest Berwick mural.

As artists, what draws you to public art specifically versus other types of art? KDP: Public art is really powerful because it adds so much value to communities by contributing to its unique identity and fostering a sense of pride. It also gives people a reason to get out and explore neighbourhoods and towns they otherwise may never have visited. The impact of public art can be difficult to articulate or measure because it’s more about how it makes people feel — but the reward of that is absolutely amazing. Of course, it also comes with challenges — it’s impossible to please everyone and there are factors like weather, equipment, or building conditions that are difficult to predict until your project is underway.

Large-scale murals are quite an undertaking. Would you share a bit about your process?
KDP: As a mainly digital lettering artist, it’s new for me to be scaling designs up to giant murals. That’s where Jake and I have found a great partnership, collaborating to bring our unique skill sets together. We started by chatting through some ideas to ensure that our design would reflect the Town’s past, present and future as requested. Once the design was approved, Jake began sorting out the details for our production process — renting the equipment we needed, arranging painting contractors to get the base coat down for us, determining all the supplies we would need, and turning the design into a grid that would allow us to scale up to the building size. We brought in assistance from local artists Charvel Rappos and Anya Kaz to help us with the installation. We started by sketching the design out in chalk. Then it was all about getting paint on the wall. We used a scissor lift, scaffolding and ladders to get us to various heights on the building. After five full days of painting, we were at the finish line!

The response to graffiti or street art has evolved greatly in recent years. Where do murals fit in?
KDP: I think that any form of art is a reflection of the times we’re living in and because of the past few very difficult years the world has had, public art feels welcomed and valued more than ever as people search for meaning and connection. Cities are starting to recalibrate post-COVID and I think that means we’ll continue to see a lot of new murals to inspire and engage people to rediscover their neighbourhoods.

Cities, towns, corporations and community organizations have embraced murals to enhance their buildings and streetscapes. What advice would you give those looking to do the same?
KDP: Do it! Public art brings people together and creates vibrant neighbourhoods that people want to visit, live in, and take care of. It promotes creativity and provides historical context and education to visitors, causing people to slow down to admire and spark conversations. Ensure opportunities are provided to a variety of artists—particularly those from under-represented communities—so there is space for a range of diverse perspectives, and that community engagement is invited when possible to ensure the art truly reflects and resonates with the community itself.

What stands out about the Berwick mural project?
KDP: This was a really unique one for us because it marked the first true collaboration between Jake and I. We consulted with the Berwick Mural Society to determine the aspects that defined the Town’s unique identity. The mural location was incredibly prominent! We got a ton of supportive car honks and words of encouragement from the community along the way. That was super motivating and made us feel like the town was really welcoming our artwork.

Any final words?
KDP: We’re excited about what’s next for our collaboration opportunities! We’re on a mission to bring beauty to Nova Scotia and beyond through public art, whether it’s murals or unique placemaking initiatives. Hopefully the Berwick Centennial Mural is our first artistic collaboration of many to come.

See more public art by Kristen De Palma on Instagram @kdpletters and kdpletters.com. Follow Jake Seibert on Instagram at @talkingwall.

Photos by Anna Horsnell. Artist photo: top left, Jake Seibert of Talking Wall Designs, top right Charvel Rappos, bottom left Kristen De Palma of KDP Letters, and bottom right Anya Kaz.