The Southwick Community Center Murals Project is part of the nonprofit’s Producing Art In Neighborhoods Together (P.A.I.N.T.) program, which brings neighborhoods and artists together to create public art projects.
P.A.I.N.T. is funded through a grant to the Center for Neighborhoods from IMAGINE Greater Louisville 2020, a partnership of Louisville Metro Government and the Fund for the Arts.
Other P.A.I.N.T. installations include a sculpture on Southside Drive and murals in the Hikes Point, Highview Park and Beechmont neighborhoods.
Jessica Brown, the Center for Neighborhood’s Planning & Design Coordinator, said each project is unique because of the collaboration process between the artists and the residents in each community.
The artist selection process for the Southwick murals began in August with a community workshop, where residents and youth from the community center gave input for the mural design. A resident-led advisory committee then reviewed artists’ applications, ultimately selecting Sweatt to complete the murals in and around the community center.
One of the reasons Sweatt received the commission is because he grew up in the neighborhood, Brown said.
“I know it meant a lot to everybody connected to this project to have Victor involved. Everyone has been excited not only about his connection to the neighborhood, but also the aesthetic that he is bringing to the work,” she added.
Park DuValle, located southwest of downtown Louisville, has been a majority African-American community since after the Civil War when white residents in nearby Parkland referred to it as “Little Africa.”
In the 1950s, the federal government Cotter and Lang Homes housing projects in the neighborhood, which most people called Southwick.
Sweatt, 54, grew up in Cotter Homes and attended John F. Kennedy Elementary School (now Kennedy Montessori Elementary School).
In 1998, the city redeveloped Cotter and Lang Homes into a mixed-use housing development named Park DuValle with funds from the Department of Housing and Urban Development’s Hope VI program.
Sweatt told Insider he designed the murals to celebrate the neighborhood’s history and inspire young people to think about their future.
The largest mural contains portraits of several historic figures who lived or worked in Park DuValle, but also highlights various STEM and arts careers today’s youth might want to follow. Among the people featured in the mural are the educator Lucie DuValle, the former Harlem Globetrotter basketball player Sammy Moore, the civil rights activist Louis Coleman Jr. and Russell Lee, one of the first African-American members of Louisville’s old Board of Aldermen.
“The images on the wall came from the street signs around the neighborhood. I really had to go deep into the archives because there are not a lot of pictures of some of these people. It’s odd to have streets named after them, but there are not pictures,” Sweatt explained.
The gymnasium walls also feature images of children playing various sports that reflect both future careers and current interest. Sweatt is still working on an outside pavilion, which will show children planting a tree with occupations like firefighter or engineer growing from it.
“For me, this whole project is about us controlling our images and empowering ourselves, especially our youth,” Sweatt said.
The artist did not create his images alone. He had six helpers, children from ages seven to 14, who sketched in the figures that he outlined on the wall. Sweatt did the actual painting himself, he said, because he uses museum quality paint and he didn’t want the kids to mess up their clothes.
Councilwoman Jessica Green, D-1, was among the crowd at the unveiling. Green, who lives in Park DuValle, said she has been involved in the project since its inception.
“This is really exciting to me because this is where I live,” Green said. “I love the fact that the children who play at the community center will be able to see these images. Hopefully, it will encourage them to learn who the people are and what they contributed to our community.”
The Southwick Community Center Murals Project is only a part of the work the Center for Neighborhoods is doing in Parkland. In June 2019, Parkland will be a part of the nonprofit’s Better Block Louisville program, which re-imagines a neighborhood block using low cost interventions, designed by the community.
The Center for Neighborhoods will host a Halfway to Better Block meeting on January 24 from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. at Irma Dee’s, 1213 S. 28tht St., to start the planning process for Better Block Parkland.