As motorists travel down busy Center Street in Bethlehem, they’ll notice a blue 1955 Chevy Bel Air in the parking lot behind the Pinnacle @ 65 apartment building. This isn’t an ordinary car, though. Rather, it’s a new mural by Lauren Kuhn, resident artist at ArtsQuest’s Banana Factory, and it marks 20 years of public art by the arts center.
Commissioned by building owners Borko Milosev and Pietro V. Scola, the work took Kuhn approximately 25 hours to complete. The classic car is painted across two perpendicular brick walls giving off the illusion that it might just drive off the surface.
This is Milosev’s first project with ArtsQuest, but he has demonstrated his commitment to public art and the community at his other properties in Easton and Whitehall, commissioning artists for murals and a statue in the common areas of his buildings. He says there are many reasons to invest in public art.
“For one, it takes a space that was purely functional and turns it into a work of art, helping to beautify the neighborhood and creating a destination for the community,” Milosev says. “We hope the creation of this mural inspires other businesses and property owners to consider adding artwork to their buildings.”
Opened in 1998, the Banana Factory has been leading public art projects since its inception. For 15 years, the arts center partnered with the Private Industry Council/PA CareerLink on the public art and job skills program called BananaWORKS, resulting in more than 25 murals at businesses and buildings in the Lehigh Valley, including Lehigh Valley International Airport, St. Luke’s University Health Network and Lehigh Valley Velodrome. For the past two years, ArtsQuest has focused its efforts in Bethlehem, specifically the SouthSide as it looks to promote the SouthSide Arts District.
Stacie Brennan, ArtsQuest Sr. Director of Visual Arts, has coordinated several murals since she started at the Banana Factory three years ago. The Steelworker painted at 24 East Third Street by Dripped on the Road, completed during the SouthSide Arts and Music Festival in 2017, was the first she was involved in. SouthBound, a new mural by Matt Halm located on the Fahy Bridge on South New and Third Streets, was completed during this year’s festival, and the arts center also partnered with Lehigh University and the SouthSide Art District to create a temporary installation of six community murals on the SouthSide Greenway this past spring. Those works will be installed in the future at businesses across the South Bethlehem.
“There’s a perception that public art can be an expensive endeavor, but the reality is that it can be both accessible and affordable, especially when you consider the many benefits these types of projects have on a community,” says Brennan. “Public art like sculptures and murals can play a leading role in economic development in urban areas, drawing people to downtowns, providing opportunities for artists to support their livelihood and even serving as unique arts education programs when mentoring artists work with students to create the work. When business and property owners choose to add a work of art to their properties, it also shows they’re really invested in and care about the community.”