PANAMA CITY – It was my day off, but some of my favorite artists had gathered to celebrate their collective creation – so I stopped by to say hello and congratulations.
I hadn’t seen them all in one place since before COVID-19 – maybe not even since right after Hurricane Michael, when many of us attended a celebration of the late Matty Jankowski. Admittedly, they hadn’t met like this for a long time.
The location was on the corner of Sixth Street and Harrison Avenue in downtown Panama City, where the âWelcome Wallâ mural was about to be completed. The people were the artists whose work shared the wall: Heather Clements, Christon Anderson, Joyful Enriquez, Jayson Kretzer, Olga Guy, Christence Taylor and Heather Parker, as well as Jacob Messick.
Paul Brent was unable to attend as he was on an annual summer excursion. But Messick, although not “officially” a Welcome Wall artist, was Brent’s assistant on his segment, and also assisted other artists in their work.
SUB-CURRENTS:Hand painting is on the wall
After:Third new fresco brings nature into the cityscape
âThe idea for the photoshoot was to bring together all of the Welcome Wall artists to celebrate the project and capture the moment through the lens of one of my favorite local photographers, Michael Booini,â said Kretzer, Executive Director by Bay Arts. Alliance.
The idea for the Welcome Wall project arose out of a brainstorming session between Kretzer and his former Bay Arts teammate, Dixie Clough. Kretzer called it “one of the coolest things I’ve ever been a part of, and I’m so grateful to all the artists.”
He also credited the Downtown Improvement Board, United Rentals (which provided the elevator) and Oriental Ocean Market for believing and supporting the project from the start.
However, not all involved were excited about the photoshoot at first.
âTo be honest, I wasn’t really excited about having to get up early to go have my picture taken, but I started having fun pretty quickly,â Taylor said. âIt was really like hanging out with a bunch of friends. I think my favorite part was being able to go over the process with the other artists on the fun parts, or the things that didn’t go so well, etc. and laugh at them. It seems we’ve all had our experiences with silly mishaps, interesting spectator comments and, of course, using the elevator. “
Guy said the whole mural experience was an exciting journey filled with emotion.
“While painting the mural, many people stopped and thanked me for taking such a lovely photo, others wanted to take my photo while I was working, and other gentler people gave us even bought some coffee or iced water, and it was very satisfying to see how much everyone is enjoying this public art exhibit, âGuy said.
As the parking lot was reserved for the photoshoot, it was Guy’s first time seeing the murals without any cars in the way, and the size of the project finally struck her. She added that she felt honored to be a part of the collaboration and thrilled with what they accomplished together.
Likewise, Anderson was pleased with the company. âI had a great time,â he said. “It was quite light and playful.”
Heather Clements said being around the other artists made her feel “a little dizzy.â¦ I already knew everyone, but having us all together after creating this gigantic piece of public art was special.”
They shared similar experiences, of receiving countless encouragement from passers-by, of wrestling with the elevator, or of painting over the textured stucco.
âI think we all feel incredibly honored to be a part of this project which has already received overwhelmingly positive responses,â said Clements. âPeople take a detour just to walk past the wall. Children ask to stop to say hello to the ostrich or swim with the jellyfish. People who have lived here all their lives say these murals give them l feel like Panama City is finally embracing all the freshness that was beneath the surface all the time. “
Clements said the project was special to her, in part because when she first moved to Panama City, she owned Gallery Above in an elevator-free space a few doors down the block. At the time, she believed her mission was to encourage the region’s âweird and authenticâ art and subculture to thrive in this space.
âNow, 12 years after it closed, this weird, authentic art is no longer on funky staircases hidden in a gallery, but it splashes on the biggest wall that welcomes everyone to the heart of our city,â Clements said. “I couldn’t be more grateful to the Bay Arts Alliance for making this possible, and I couldn’t be more humble and honored to be a part of it.”
Tony Simmons is a writer and editor for The News Herald. His column appears most weeks in the Entererer.