A 52-panel mural, which the artist says illustrates "the unique character and many images of Prince George's County," has become the most recent example of a growing local effort to secure art for public places through private rather than governmental sponsorship.

The colorful five-story mural, by Maryland Eastern Shore artist James Richardson, was permanently mounted last month on the east wall of the Sheraton Hotel, near the busy intersection of the Capital Beltway and Route 450.

There commuters, office workers, visitors and residents are treated to colorful images of Metro trains and the Beltway, which Richardson says represent "the county's commitment to progress;" the New Carrollton library and the Publick Playhouse in Cheverly, which he says illustrate the county's cultural facilities; and other scenes depicting Prince George's roots in horse breeding, tobacco farming and national politics.

The mural, simply titled "Prince George's County," is the latest of at least a dozen such works coordinated by the County Planning Commission's Arts for Public Places Project.

Margery Freeman, the commission's visual arts program director, said the mural is the first work in Prince George's produced through the cooperation of the business community and the local, state and federal governments in support of the arts.

The county approached several businesses, including Carroll Enterprises, owner of the Sheraton, as it sought to continue supporting public art works after an 18-month CETA (Comprehensive Employment Training Act) grant to secure such works was discontinued and National Endowment for the Arts funds were frozen. The CETA grant paid for work on 12 murals and one sculpture now in place throughout Prince George's County.

After Carroll Enterprises agreed to pay for the Sheraton project, local arts groups, a community advisory board and civic organizations were consulted on the program. Applications from Maryland artists were screened and the artist whose proposed mural "was the most representational for people in the area" was selected, Freeman explained.

She said she hopes this precedent will "cause a stir with other businesses" and, in the spirit of competition, encourage them to support more art in public places.

Similar projects are under way in other nearby parts of Maryland.

Rockville, which allocates 1 percent of its city budget to art in public places, recently saw the completion of a mural depicting historical spots in that city. The mural, installed at the Metropolitan Bank Building in downtown Rockville, was sponsored by the city's Art in Public Places Program, not the 1 percent of the general fund set aside for artworks.

City officials have had a difficult time obtaining business support for their projects, however, and in one instance had to travel to Baltimore, find outdoor murals there and contact building owners for help in locating the artists.

The bank building mural, the work of Baltimore artist Gerardo Gomez-Moreno, was commissioned as a result of that trip.

One successful muralist, T. Philip Rodgers of Gaithersburg, whose abstract murals can be seen at Comsat Laboratories in Clarksburg, International Iron Worker headquarters in Washington and, soon, in Baltimore and Silver Spring, sees the steady proliferation of art in public spaces as the manifestation of a "great public demand for it."

He says he has found it easier to create a public art work supported by private funds than to "wait for pending legislation to be passed in order to do it."

Rodgers says, "Outdoor works are more relevant to the public, because most people don't go to art museums. Art should be made more accessible to the public by bringing it out of the cloistered environment of the museums and galleries, and (it should) inspire its viewers with heightened self-awareness and importance."

Among those present at the dedication of Richardson's New Carrollton mural were Dr. Edward W. Brandt III, pastor of the First Baptist Church of New Carrollton; Charles A. Dukes Jr., chairman of the Prince George's County Planning Board; Parris N. Glendening, chairman of the Prince George's County Council; Jordan Harding, mayor of New Carrollton; Raymond G. La Placa of Carrollton Enterprises; and Richardson.