It all started when Marge Fleming went on vacation. When she returned, she shared a brochure about a mural town in Athens, Ontario, Canada, with Jill Barnett. Adopting the mural idea, Barnett suggested that Peoples Bank commission a mural in celebration of the bank’s centennial. The idea quickly took shape and the first mural featuring A.J. Barnett, the bank’s president for 39 years.
Shelly Smith Steiger, a hometown artist was enlisted to paint the original mural, and after online research on how to paint outdoor murals, she found British Columbia Canadian artist Michelle Loughery, who is known for her murals. Ultimately, Loughrey and her 16-year-old daughter flew to Missouri, and eight days later Viva Cuba had their first mural.
Before Loughrey left, she shared her vision: Develop a mural project, which will transform ugly walls into public art and give people a reason to visit Cuba. Taking Loughrey’s advice, Viva Cuba adopted the project and planned for additional murals. With the help of Viva Cuba volunteers, the mural project blossomed into a multi-year project.
Now 13 murals later, Viva Cuba wants to protect the art that started it all. It’s been almost 20 years since the mural project began. Since then, Viva Cuba has experienced first-hand how art can transform a town. Outdoor murals encourage people to slow down and admire the surroundings.
The murals of Cuba do just that. Inspired by local history with an emphasis on rural life in Missouri, the Route 66 Mural City offers 14 outdoor murals. Each with its own history lesson, the Route 66 murals attract thousands of travelers each year from all over the world.
This year, with the help of a 2019 IMPACT 100 grant, Viva Cuba plans to protect and preserve the Route 66 Mural City designation for years to come. Involved since the inception, Steiger has spent two decades painting in Cuba. This summer, she and her team of artists, Julie Nixon Krovicka, Isabella Kamler, and Taylor Rives, have been performing routine mural maintenance to help sustain the art for decades to come.
In addition, Viva Cuba consulted again with Loughery to see how her town was maintaining their murals. She suggested Mural Shield, and after researching the product, Viva Cuba plans to apply the product to all of their murals.
“The Mural Shield is a real game changer,” said Steiger. “Developed by muralists, this protective layer is a finishing touch designed specifically to increase the longevity of outdoor murals.”
Between murals, Viva Cuba Garden, and tree projects, Viva Cuba volunteers strive to keep the city relevant for residents, tourists, and educators with welcoming and walkable art installations that make you want to see it in person.
A mural community does much more than just display art.
They provide color
Murals make you take notice as you drive by. It’s no secret, murals improve properties and add color to buildings and streets that otherwise go unnoticed. Outdoor art installations reach folks that otherwise may never set foot in an art gallery. People take notice when old buildings breathe new life. Murals are more attractive to look at than blank walls.
They attract business
With the public in mind. murals act as a collective of thoughtful spaces. In this case, our murals encourage you to get out of the car and explore our historic downtown. Murals attract new businesses, help bring customers to existing locations, and boost the economy of the area.
They tell a story
These community murals add value and encourage dialogue about the local culture and history. Located along Route 66, our murals reveal war, industry, glamor, and even politics. At our annual Cuba Fest celebration, we offer narrative trolley tours that share the story behind the murals.
They build community
The murals began as a project to celebrate the city’s entrepreneurial spirit and promote our hometown pride. Cuba’s first mural was commissioned in 2001 by Peoples Bank as a way to pay homage to the late A.J. Barnett. Since then, every mural is linked to cultural preservation of the area.