The collaborative effort of several Pekin artists, a collection of painted storefronts on the side of a building at 523 Court St. has given the location the name Mural Park. Muse Salon at 429 Court St., Gro Up Gardening at 229 Court St., and Kountry Nook Craft Mall at 212 N. Capitol St. feature murals and artwork by local artist Luke Kinzler. And the United Way of Pekin’s building at 206 N. 4th St. exhorts passersby to “Live United” with a mural painted by the Washington-based sign and design company Creations by Cooley.
The city of Pekin recognizes several benefits in the creation and display of public murals. A city ordinance permitting and encouraging art murals on a content-neutral basis maintains that they improve a community’s aesthetic, provide avenues for original artistic expression, create public access to original works of art, foster community participation in the creation of original works of art, cultivate pride in one’s community through the presence of and identification with original works of art; and reduce the incidence of graffiti.
“They catch your eye as you’re coming down a street,” said Pekin city manager Tony Carson. “Murals are a very eclectic way of supporting the art community, which we have been trying to encourage through different activities we’ve had downtown.”
Pekin artist Luke Kinzler, who painted several of the downtown murals, believes they contribute to the town’s economy, tourism, and community. They attract people to the area to view the art, demonstrate that Pekin is receptive to artistic self-expression, and create new foot traffic surrounding businesses.
“I definitely have a sense of pride in being from Pekin and I want the town to reflect those who have grown up here,” said Kinzler. “I want to inspire the people who are coming up in this town. I see a lot of hard work and dedication put into bringing Pekin into a new place of development, especially in the downtown area. The downtown area was a big focus of mine because of all the efforts to bring it back to life. New businesses are opening up a lot of traffic in that area and I feel like it represents a good part of what our town is.”
Nathan Schmidgall, owner of Gro Up Gardening, commissioned a mural from Kinzler, basing it on a cropped portion of one of Kinzler’s paintings.
“It adds to the landscape, and it gives people something to look at and talk about,” said Schmidgall. “Maybe it will encourage people to bring in more artwork, which I’d like to see downtown.”
Downtown Pekin has been a focal point of public murals, according to assistant city manager Mark Rothert, because of its traditional status as the heart of a community. It is also a business district, a busy public gathering place, and something of a historic district. That combination ensures that any public artwork displayed there is readily visible to shoppers, tourists, and workers on a daily basis.
“We want to encourage an artistic feel to our downtown area, because of the historic nature of the buildings and because it is a place where we want to see the community grow,” said Rothert. “It’s good visible location for our own little public art gallery.”