With the help of some local high school students, Leesburg artist Kevin Dunn is adding a splash of color to one of the drab gray walls of Leesburg’s downtown parking garage.
Last weekend, several art students from Tuscarora and Heritage high schools joined Dunn in painting a bicycle-themed mural he designed to serve as a backdrop to some bike racks inside the garage. Dunn and other proponents of bringing art to public places hope the project will revive interest in creating a larger mural on an exterior wall of the garage.
The students helped transfer Dunn’s design from paper printouts to a stretch of wall about 60 feet long and 7½ feet high. Using a grid on the printouts as a guide, they carefully brushed the bright colors onto rectangles in a corresponding outline Dunn had marked on the wall.
Dunn said he recruited art students because the project requires a certain degree of skill while giving them a learning experience.
“The talent comes in with the shading, matching the color,” he said. “You have to have an eye.”
Gradually, Dunn’s design began to take shape on the wall. A collage of cyclists sporting bold colors is interspersed with scenes from a Leesburg alleyway. To add action, Dunn designed three-dimensional images showing a cyclist “busting through” a brick wall, he said.
Dunn, 56, created several public murals in St. Augustine, Fla., where he lived before moving to Leesburg about five years ago. He pursues his passion for art during time off from his day job as an environmental scientist.
The idea for the mural emerged from the Leesburg Commission on Public Art. The commission thought that the Leesburg Town Council would be more likely to approve the mural if there was no cost to the public, Dunn said.
“I volunteered to come up with the design rather than pay someone to do it,” said Dunn, a member of the commission. “And we decided to get local talent here — the high school kids — and make a community project out of it.”
A local business donated the paint, and Dunn paid for some of the remaining supplies himself.
“It’s a win-win, because students are having fun building their art résumés, plus the town gets a free mural,” Dunn said.
Tuscarora students Bella Valle, 17, and Corey Birmingham, 16, volunteered to help paint the mural because it looked like a fun project, and the design appealed to them.
“I thought it would be cool to do something that would last,” Corey said.
Heritage student Georgia Rosenlund, 16, often went to the nearby Tally Ho Theatre while growing up in Leesburg.
“I felt like contributing to this place would leave my mark, and I wanted to give back to the community,” Georgia said.
Tom O’Neil, chairman of the Commission on Public Art, said the group has also been working off and on for about five years to obtain approval from the town council for a large mural on the exterior wall of the parking garage, facing Loudoun Street.
That project has been challenging, because the council asked that no public funds be used, he said, adding that three attempts to gain approval for the mural faltered.
The council turned down the first proposal because it was too costly, and rejected the second because members thought the design looked “too cartoonlike,” O’Neil said. A third proposal languished while a group created to help with fundraising was getting organized.
“One of the best things about [the mural project] is that we’re learning a lot about how to fund-raise, how to organize a project,” O’Neil said.
The commission is working on several other public art projects, including a sculpture garden in Raflo Park that will be dedicated July 2, O’Neil said.
Dunn expects work on the mural inside the parking garage to be finished next month. He hopes that completing it will “jump-start” the exterior mural project.
“We have several projects in the works, but this is the first actual mural,” he said. “Hopefully, it will be the first of many.”