For Mike Franklin, the art’s the thing in Hyattsville


Artist Liz Manicatide painted the mural that is attached to the side of Franklins Restaurant in Hyattsville. The mural, which was paid for in part by a grant from the city, will be illuminated by a changing light show. (Bill O'Leary/The Washington Post)
April 19, 2013

Mike Franklin was one of the first to see the potential of downtown Hyattsville amid the clutter of car dealerships, fast-food joints and laundromats.

His Franklins Restaurant, Brewery and General Store (complete with penny candy, children’s books and toys) has been a fixture on Route 1 for more than two decades. Almost single-handedly, Franklin created an oasis of civility in a landscape where for years neither fine dining nor fun dining was easy to find.

Lately, though, as townhouses have sprung up, others have joined him near his block south of the University of Maryland: Busboys & Poets, Elevation Burger, Chipotle, a hair salon and a pet food store. That, along with a longstanding effort by Prince George’s County officials and artists to expand the Gateway Arts District with affordable housing and studio space, and Mike Franklin looks nothing if not prescient.

Now, he hopes to make the region sit up and pay attention to his creative community.

“The redevelopment up the road has been a huge positive, and the quality of work is excellent. But, high quality as it is, nothing about it says ‘you are in Hyattsville, Md., and nowhere else,’ ” Franklin said.

To ensure that the funkiness of Hyattsville and its century-old commercial buildings don’t get swallowed up by cookie-cutter designs, Franklin began to think that a mural might help — one that would provide a unique sense of place, that ultimately would be linked to Hyattsville and Hyattsville to it.

That led him to Massachusetts artist Liz Manicatide, who just installed “After Dark, Hyattsville,” a wooden mural that lights up in a changing color scheme at night. Manicatide, who has done many temporary art installations with changing light, said the Hyattsville piece is the first in the nation to be a permanent work of art using changeable lighting. Ten panels are attached to the side of Franklins to create the 40-by-14-foot mural. Its neon-bright colors complement Franklin’s own sign, and it has a little humanoid character who looks like it is peering over nearby buildings.

“It is just a way to put a really fun, blinky, eye-catching humorous thing out there in the neighborhood,” Manicatide said during breaks in the two-day installation this month.

“I like making imaginary worlds where things are different and fun and weird and where people can just be playful and enjoy what they are seeing. I don’t think art has to be heavy or difficult to understand. Everyone has a facility for play or color. Everyone is creative in their own way and there are so many things everyone can enjoy,” she said. “When you see the colors and the light effect, you are going to stop and look and say, ‘Wow, that is really fun.’ ”

The work employs super-bright Color Kinetics lights that will run several light shows.

“A lot of this was driven by Mike’s desire to bring up the community as it is trying to be more of an arts neighborhood and more on the map,” Manicatide said.

The project cost about $80,000, with Franklin picking up half and the city half through a grant program, Franklin said.

Manicatide is a graphic and Web site designer by day, but creating murals is her passion. “It’s what makes people smile and feel engaged,” she said.

Franklins Restaurant, Brewery and General Store is at 5121 Baltimore Ave., Hyattsville, Md. “After Dark, Hyattsville,” is visible from the south, coming from the District line.

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