Creating a Public Mural Program: Lessons from Kinston, NC (Part 3)

About the Author

CED Guest Author

“Sugar Hill by Timothy Robert Smith

This three-part blog post series chronicles the process, joys, and challenges of implementing a large-scale creative placemaking initiative, in this case the Downtown Kinston Mural Program in eastern North Carolina. The Part 1 post of this series reviewed the program design, citizen committee, and wall selection for the program. Part 2 described the process of advertising the artist opportunity, selecting artists, pairing artists with walls, and developing the artist’s concepts for the program. This third and final post in this series will review the logistics involved during mural installation, community engagement during a pandemic, and the budget management process.

Installation Logistics 

The Kinston Mural Program included seven murals done by eight artists (one mural was completed by a two-person team). Each project had several logistical needs:

Insurance. General liability insurance was necessary to cover the artists in case of injury or damage to other property. The City worked with its own insurance provider to find a special event policy that would cover the entirety of the project and considering the mural installations each as separate “events”. It took two months and several attempts with different brokers to find an affordable policy with sufficient coverage.

Housing. Housing was only required for the three artists visiting from out of town. Fortunately, housing within walking distance to downtown was graciously provided in-kind by a local AirBnB host (and Selection Committee member). The host took responsibility for providing instructions to the artist for check in/out; staff led the charge of providing the visiting artists with directions to the wall, contacts, and directions to local food, grocery, and art supplies.

Wall preparation. Preparation for each mural included scraping, pressure washing, and priming. The City gave a majority of the work to a company that could do all three tasks and could bring their own water source for pressure washing. The walls were prepared within a month of the artist’s arrival. Most walls were entirely primed a color matching the existing wall paint, but the owner could specify their preference on color, or whether to prime only the size of the expected mural to preserve the rest of the wall.

Installation of Music Educators mural by Jared Bader

Installation Supplies. While on site, artists required access to water, electricity, bathrooms, materials/paint supply storage. This was provided either in the owner’s building or nearby.

Equipment. All muralists required either a bucket lift or scissor lift placement or rental, plus instructions for use. Lifts are an expensive component of the project, so the City provided a bucket truck lift to artists. However, two artists were unwilling to use the bucket truck because it had little space to bring paint bucket and supplies up, which a scissor lift could accommodate. Another artist was not able to use a lift at all because of interfering power lines and found a willing community member to donate scaffolding. Other equipment was supplied by the City as necessary, usually on loan from Public Works, such as a ladder and extension cords.

Welcome Plan. Staff also led communication and coordination with the private owner of each wall, scheduling meetings between the artist and primary staff, wall owner, and 1-2 committee members. Staff also scheduled at least one news interview while the artist is at the wall, while also encouraging social media posting of folks visiting the wall and interacting with the artist.

Media. Press releases were sent to local news stations announcing the artist’s arrival/installation dates, an in-progress update, and an invitation to the artist’s virtual talk discussing their career and the mural. Staff posted to social media and the City website with photos of the artist and wall/mural before, during, and after.

Neuse News coverage of Choci Gray’s Alice Hannibal mural

Plaques. As the program progressed, the Selection Committee decided to add explanatory plaques to each mural that would state the title, artist, description, and thanks to community members who helped create the mural’s content. Research on plaque material and language editing by the artist, staff, and Selection Committee was required for each mural.

Lessons Learned

  1. Ask community members for help—it increases community engagement and significantly reduces cost! In Kinston’s program, a local business owner offered housing at a drastically reduced rate, a construction company installed mural panels for a reduced fee, a local art gallery offered storage space and bathroom access, and a contractor donated scaffolding to an artist.
  2. Establish good relationships between the artist, committee, and wall owner—good communication avoids problems, and helps the artist feel welcome!
  3. Get written confirmations from the artists that they understand the equipment option they have and that they are comfortable using it, along with any other terms.
  4. Require or provide liability insurance against the chance of injury or property damage.
  5. Prepare walls within a month of the artist’s arrival.
  6. Go physically to the wall often during installation to check on equipment, communicate with the wall owner, take pictures, and build a relationship with the artist.Some may need more consistent management than others.
  7. Any time you use the artist’s photo, use a direct quote from their application or professional website.
  8. Create a design theme for each artist to give them a distinct identity when posting (Canva is especially high-quality and easy to use).
  9. Government social media does not usually have a large following. Liberally tag Council members, local supporters, news media, and the artist to increase the number of people who see your posts.

Community Welcoming & Artist Engagement

The interactions between the Mural Program artists and the community were some of the most valuable parts of the program. The City of Kinston is a SmART community with an artist relocation program, meaning there are many artists living and working in the City. Reaching out to local arts organizations was a great way for visiting artists to meet local artists and vice versa. Some of these relationships have lasted past the program, expanding local artists’ networks and potentially leading to future collaborations. The Mural Committee was also proactive in scheduling lunches and visiting artists at work. To varying extents, the wall owner was also friendly and supportive to the artist during their stay. Consistent media coverage with clear times, locations, and images of progress also helped advertise when artists were working and community members could see the murals in progress.

Virtual Artist Talks

Advertising Timothy Robert Smith’s virtual artist talk

The Virtual Artist Talks were the primary way community members were able to engage with the artist during the COVID-19 pandemic. These talks were held on a weeknight over Zoom and Facebook Live and allowed the artist to share their previous work as well as the mural process in Kinston.

Virtual Artist talks were a great way for citizens to learn more about the mural process generally—artist Maxx Moses shared photos of his murals from around the world and described his creative process which combined initial sketches and projections with on-site improvisation; Maxx presented in both a city-wide and a more intimate presentation with a Kinston High School art class, which allowed students to ask more specific questions and connect his experience with their own art. Timothy Robert Smith shared his method of painting on poly-tab canvas which can be glued to a wall and create a mural that looks identical to a mural painted directly on the wall. These talks also brought the subjects of the mural to the community. In the artist talk held by Max and Jamil, which featured their mural honoring the students that participated in the Adkin High School Walkout, one of the original participants, Mrs. Carolyn Coefield, joined the Zoom and shared her thoughts about the impact of the walkout. A teacher present on the call stated her intention to work with artists Max and Jamil to create a Civil Rights curriculum for her students involving the walkout story. Virtual Artists talks help create connections and impact that can last far beyond the events in the program.

Lessons Learned

  1. Intentionally cultivate relationships with local arts organizations to ensure the local art community gains from a new artist’s visit and vice versa!
  2. Use your committee to help advertise virtual events through personal invitations.
  3. Artists are not necessarily experienced public speakers or facilitators—take the time to offer technical support, facilitation during Q&A, and opportunities to practice their presentation!
  4. Record online events for later use/archival data.

    Adkin High School Walkout Virtual Artist Talk with special guest Carolyn Coefield


While a budget was established at the beginning of any project, on-the-ground learning brought changes and unexpected costs that altered the original budget along the way. The NEA grant award was $100,000, but the true cost of the program was around $120,000 (not including staff time). The additional $20,000 was covered by additional contributions from the City, but does not include the generous in-kind donations by community supporters toward housing, mural installation, equipment rental, etc.

The program budget was tracked by a spreadsheet shared among city staff and updated regularly. The spreadsheet was broken down by artist and then their fee, equipment, wall preparation, materials, insurance, and housing fees. On a separate sheet, each vendor (artists, equipment rental, wall preparation, supplies, etc.) had a row to track the purchase orders and receipts.

The program’s original budget included:

  • Artist Fees
  • Wall Preparation
  • Program Liability Insurance
  • Artist Consultant Fee
  • 10% contingency

The following unexpected additions to the budget occurred during implementation:

  • Scissor Lift rental (two artists refused or were unable to use the bucket truck)
  • Cleaning fees for the housing (originally thought to be part of the housing donation)
  • MDO plywood (for the mural panels) and Mural Panel Installation — at first, the City thought the mural could be done on a wall, but due to the historic nature of the wall it was moved to hurricane wind-resistant wooden panels that needed to be installed by a professional.
  • Plaques: the idea of adding plaques came after several murals were installed and was not in the original budget.
  • Miscellaneous: research materials for artists, an artist paid for their own insurance while the city was investigating blanket policies, buying extra artist supplies, etc.

The unexpected costs (and higher than estimated original budget costs) ended up around $15,000—the contingency budget was $8,000, leaving an approximately $7,000 gap that was filled by contributions from the Planning Department budget.

Lessons Learned

  1. The 10% contingency is crucial, and probably not enough – 20% is a good idea, especially for new programs
  2. Secure confirmation and details related to any in-kind resources from community partners and city departments in writing before taking the cost out of your budget. (The program assumed in-kind support from other City departments for wall preparation and lift services; the wall could not be provided due to competing demands on staff, and the City-owned bucket truck lift provided wasn’t acceptable to all artists).


The Mural Program has been a wonderful addition of color and history to Kinston’s downtown, one which will hopefully promote civic participation and meaningful dialogue for years to come. For municipalities considering a public art program, the results are well worth the effort. If you’re ever in the City, take a tour of the murals and see all that Kinston has to offer!

This post was co-authored by Sarah Arney, Lead for NC Fellow with the City of Kinston, and Marcia Perritt, Associate Director with the UNC Development Finance Initiative.

One Response to “Creating a Public Mural Program: Lessons from Kinston, NC (Part 3)”

  1. Susan Barbee

    In addition to my role at the Town of Leland, I am on the board of the Carolina Beach Murals projects. Everything you have indicated mirrors our experience. As a private 501(c)3 we have to do all our own fundraising so the $100K grant was fantastic. I would note we do ‘artist’ events at the unveilings to raise funds and help publicize the events. That might be a great addition for your next murals!

Leave a Reply

We will read all comments submitted to us, but we will publish only those comments that serve to advance our readers’ understanding of a post and are consistent with our institutional commitment to non-advocacy.

XHTML: You can use these tags: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>