Downtown Anniston is home to more than a dozen murals. Painted on restaurants, stores, bars and barbershops, the giant works of art each tell their own story.
Jacksonville State University art student and Dark Carnival Ink tattoo artist James Castillo, who goes by Jin, is using his latest mural to advocate for change in the Model City.
After finishing his first mural on the side of Jr.’s Barbershop last December, a spray-paint piece titled “We are the Tears of the Model City,” Jin said he “kind of fell into the mural thing.” The Spirit of Anniston contacted him about painting his current mural on the 10th Street side of Western Auto.
A far cry from Atlanta Avenue’s cheerful sunflowers and whimsical rabbits, Jin’s newest mural will focus on Anniston’s dark side.
“It’s going to bring some negative feedback, and I’m OK with that,” Jin said. “There won’t be any nudity or profanity, but a little indirect violence and a lot of dark, terrifying emotions. I want to strike the heart of the city.”
The 60-by-30-foot piece will have three parts — a left, a right and a main — where the entire city will be depicted.
“I’m going to feature a lot of tragedy and a lot of heartfelt emotion,” Jin said. “I don’t intend to ruin days, but it’s definitely going to bring some thoughts. It’s going to catch some eyes. I want to bring awareness to the condition of the city. I’ve been living here for a long time, and I’m not seeing it get any better.”
Although he wants to address some of the problems he sees in the city, Jin also hopes the mural will be an intrinsic part of Anniston.
“It’s Anniston’s mural,” he said. “You can’t put this anywhere else and have it mean the same thing.”
Amy Sananman is the executive director of Groundswell mural in Brooklyn, N.Y., an organization that works to encourage communities to use art as a means for social change. Although Anniston’s plan to revitalize using public art is relatively recent, Sananman said the effort revitalize cities through murals has been happening for decades.
While Groundswell works in New York neighborhoods and communities much larger than Anniston, Sananman said smaller cities might benefit even more from public art.
“I think more so in a way because you’d be able to create so many pieces. You could have an incredible impact,” she said. “It can be a destination. People come to your town to see the piece … It adds to the cultural lore of the town.”
Although some of the murals downtown were commissioned by private businesses, the city and county have commissioned and funded several, including the recent West 15th Street mural.
Colorfully painted on a vacant building on West 15th Street, the “city within a city” mural depicts life the way it used to be in West Anniston.
“On 15th Street, they had everything,” said Georgia Calhoun, who grew up just outside of Anniston but spent time on West 15th Street nearly every day.
Known as the African-American business district, the area boasted doctors, hotels, theaters, beauty parlors, grocery stores and restaurants.
“What else did you need?” Calhoun asked. “You didn’t need to go downtown.”
The Spirit of Anniston commissioned Joseph Giri to paint a mural honoring the heritage of West 15th Street, and residents selected a handful of symbols to represent some of the area’s fondest memories. Late local artist John Will Davis prepared the sketches.
One of the most prominent features of the mural is a depiction of children roller skating, led by a grinning boy proudly holding a star. Calhoun and Jackson remembered roller skating as a favorite pastime of West Anniston children.
“Rev. DC Washington went to the city board and asked if they could block off Pine Avenue from 18th Street to 15th Street so the children could skate around during Christmastime,” Calhoun said. “The black children had no park.”
Not far from West 15th Street, another of Giri’s murals sends onlookers back in time. On the back of The Office Sports Bar and Grill on Noble Street, two young lovers gaze at one another, completely unaware of the bustling city around them.
“They were courting in 1926, right here in West Anniston in hotshot curve,” Office owner Alan Stovall said. “He was trying to give her a kiss and she pointed to the stop sign.”
The couple featured in the mural is Stovall’s grandparents, Bill and Bessie Haynes. He commissioned Giri to paint the mural when the building was being refurbished eight years ago at the suggestion of his wife, Angie.
“What better to put on there than the history of West Anniston?” Stovall asked. “Now they’re facing back where they came from.”
Stovall said he was inspired to commission the mural after the other businesses on Atlanta Avenue had their own painted.
“It was kind of like a chain of events,” he said. “It just went into a snowball effect.”
The mural on the back of Classic on Noble also has a family connection. The piece features owner David Mashburn’s granddog, Manelo, happily playing in a garden, and was painted in 2009 by Julia Segars, vice president for Alabama Power’s Eastern Division.
“We still will go out to this day and someone will be out there taking a picture of it,” Mashburn said. “Our alley desperately needed it.”
Giri also recreated a bit of Anniston’s dark side — the freedom riders’ buses.
On 9th and Noble streets, Giri painted a life-size Trailways bus as a part of the Civil Rights and Heritage Trail, and a Greyhound bus by Moore Printing and Howell’s signs, the site of the original bus station.
“That’s the bus that actually went down 202 … the bus was disabled, pulled over and set ablaze,” explained Spirit of Anniston Executive Director Dianna Michaels.
Michaels said each bus mural cost $15,000 to commission. Two major donors gave money for the murals through the Spirit of Anniston — Alabama Power Company and Eastman, formerly Solutia.
“A lot people were not for it because it exposed an ugly side of this area,” Giri remembered. “If you don’t shine a light on the dark place, it’ll never heal.”