"Wall #35," one of the murals completed by community volunteers as part of the "Murals on Main" initiative during the 2016 MLK Day of Service. Photo courtesy The Walls Project.

From the Editor: Off the Walls

inRegister Editor Kelli Bozeman. Photo by Jordan Hefler.

According to my unscientific polling (aka what I’ve seen on social media over the last several years), you haven’t actually been on vacation until you’ve posed in front of a pair of giant angel wings painted on a downtown building. C’mon, be honest: Raise your hand if you’ve clutched a coffee cup and smiled as your friend, your daughter or a slightly annoyed stranger captured your image as a cherub in training in some other ZIP code.

Apparently, the first known angel wings mural fittingly popped up in the City of Angels, Los Angeles, in 2012, as a way to let passersby interact with public art. That artist’s ensuing “Global Angel Wings Project” went on to include the creation of dozens more of these murals from Kenya to Cuba.

Then came Taylor Swift. When the pop star Instagrammed a photo of herself in front of another artist’s #WhatLiftsYou angel wings mural in New York City in 2014, it set off a fluttery frenzy. Nashville’s trendy Gulch neighborhood got its own 20-foot set of white-on-black wings two years later, and while fans of the feathery art couldn’t get enough, some locals weren’t so sure. “The line to be photographed at The Gulch’s angel wings is about 75 people deep on this beautiful Sunday afternoon,” one person tweeted in 2018. “Is this a new high point in Nashville history—or is it more aptly a new low point?”

Here in Baton Rouge, previously blank buildings have been getting a lot more colorful since the Walls Project nonprofit came on the scene in 2012—and there’s no doubt that the group’s work has been a local high point. With nary an angel wing in sight, executive director Casey Phillips and his team have proclaimed in a big way that creativity is alive and well in the Capital City. They have partnered with artists and community members to produce massive murals that reflect our area’s music, its sports heroes, its native flowers and more, while reducing blight and revitalizing neighborhoods. To date, the group has completed 128 murals and sculptural installations—but their work has grown to encompass far more than what could be accomplished with a bucket of paint. These days, the Walls Project also trains teens and adults in coding and digital photography, provides access to fresh food while teaching sustainable growing techniques, and forges alliances to “break through and tear down societal walls.”

This unique organization’s work is just one of the projects featured in the April issue’s cover story, for which we sent out three photographers to document arts happenings all over Baton Rouge during a single 24-hour period. From a filmmaker and a calligrapher to a sushi chef and a group of young ballerinas, the images evoke the energy and vitality that remain in abundance in our city.

Meanwhile, the Walls Project has begun spreading its wings beyond south Louisiana with a push into the Dallas area, where residents will also benefit from its community-minded vision. Perhaps you’ll see one of their murals during your next trip to the Big D—on your way to the famous angel wings, naturally. There’s even a pair of wings made up of painted pepperoni pizza slices. Say cheese!