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Park, June German Ball mural unveiled uptown
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NCI interns Briana Amos (left) and Abigail Kieselbach are shown with the June German Ball mural they helped paint. Also taking part in the project was TraVonn DeJarnette. The mural was unveiled Thursday at the new Fayette Square “pocket park” in the city. (Bulletin photos)
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Friday, July 18, 2014

By MICKEY POWELL - Bulletin Staff Writer

A mural depicting a popular social event was unveiled Thursday morning during a grand opening ceremony for a new park in uptown Martinsville.

The mural, which portrays the June German Ball, is on the side of Travis Barber Shop next to Fayette Square. The square is a “pocket park” recently established at the corner of Fayette, Moss and Main streets.

Briana Amos, TraVonn DeJarnette and Abigail Kieselbach painted the mural. Amos and Kieselbach are in the summer internship program sponsored by the New College Institute (NCI). DeJarnette is a past participant in the program.

They were mentored by local artists Alexis “Lex” Hairston, Charles Hill and Iris Gillispie.

The 16- by 8-foot mural is painted in purple, yellow, orange, blue and brown. It shows scenes of people dancing and performing music and songs. Musical notes are in the background. A “June German Ball” banner extends over the top of the painting.

“I really enjoyed learning (about painting techniques) from the community artists,” Kieselbach said, noting that she had never met them before. “We really felt like everyone put in a lot of ideas and talent.”

Kieselbach, a local resident who is a rising sophomore at Virginia Western Community College in Roanoke, said taking part in creating the mural enabled her to learn more about the annual ball, the community and the Dana O. Baldwin Block’s influence on the community.

The Baldwin Block, where NCI’s new building is almost finished, once was a hub of the city’s African-American community and home to the ball. Historians have said the ball, in its heyday, brought big-name performers and thousands of people to Martinsville.

Kieselbach said she understands that Tina Turner and the late James Brown were among performers who attended the ball in the past.

At one time, “Martinsville was like this really happening area,” she said.

She added that she is “seeing a lot of growth” in economic opportunities locally now and “that makes me hopeful” about the community’s future.

Fayette Square was established on a site owned by J & R Management that once contained several businesses. Buildings that those businesses occupied were since torn down, and the site had become overgrown with weeds.

That changed as the park was established.

The concrete surface has 15 wooden planters, each having a shrub inside, plus five round metal picnic tables and attached seats.

The features were installed in a way that will enable them to be moved to establish another pocket park if J & R Management ever sells the property, said Assistant City Manager Wayne Knox.

It is the first park in Virginia to be developed in such a temporary manner, said Knox, who also is the city’s director of community development.

He added that Virginia Department of Housing and Community Development (DHCD) officials were impressed that “we were able to think (ahead) to that point” in time and that a property owner was willing to provide the city an easement to land for a park intended to be temporary.

“Projects like this ... enhance the community by removing blight,” DHCD Public Relations Director Amanda Pearson said in a prepared statement.

Pearson predicted the park will “spur economic development and make Martinsville more attractive to prospective businesses.”

The city used $42,174 in Community Development Block Grant funds, which are provided by the federal government but channeled through the DHCD, to create Fayette Square, said Susan McCulloch, the city’s community planner.

McCulloch said city crews have provided $46,606 in “in-kind work,” such as labor, to help set up the park.

About 35 NCI interns took part in establishing Fayette Square, such as by planting shrubs, said Katie Croft, the institute’s coordinator of experiential learning.

Their work will enable them to “leave their legacy” in the community, Croft said. In the future, they will be able to visit the park and tell family members and friends they had a role in establishing it, she said.

By people working as a team, “the power of community can definitely be seen” in the creation of the park and the mural, Croft added.


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