By Carmen Gentile
Camerin “Camo” Nesbit gives tips on working with aerosol to fellow muralist Janel Young as they add to a Black Lives Matter mural along the Allegheny River in downtown Pittsburgh. The mural was created by a group of white house painters. (photograph by Martha Rial)
Public art is a great tool for human interaction in general, and specifically for strengthening communities.
Public art can provide opportunities for the area that it’s in, such as business ventures, community groups, youth engagement, and overall beautification of the area.
Public art also can make a place look at itself differently. Encouraging more care for the area, public art encourages people to care for and maintain space it occupies. Public art gives the community a sense of pride in their space, which everyone loves to feel. Attracting tourists and other people, it creates interest in and revenue for the surrounding community. It tells a story, which is literally part of so many people’s history and memories. From the time when the surface for a public-art mural is being primed, and through the rest of the process of creating it, people experience that piece in some way.
I would say there are a couple of “do’s” and “don’ts” in creating public art, such as a mural. Bare minimum, you should have permission from the owner of the wall to paint on it. If not, it’s simply graffiti, which is fine; I’m a fan of the culture. But for a mural to actually hold these attributes and provide these benefits we speak of, it must be sanctioned.
Try to engage with the community as much as possible when you are doing a project. Many times, public engagement is asked for in RFQs/RFPs anyhow, but it’s a great way to actually gauge what the community would like to see.
You cannot be selfish about public art: You are creating art for eyes you don’t even know exist. So try your best to be fitting for the area. Do your best to get some sort of payment/compensation. We can’t afford to dilute the craft with free work everywhere; it’ll never be respected that way. I’m not saying there is a rule book, but those are things that I would start with to do it “the right way.”
I just want the youth and others who look like me to know they can do anything they put their minds to. It’s important for Black people to be shown in positive light to inspire/uplift other Black people and the future of Black people. For people who aren’t Black, I want them to see that there is beauty in “the hood;” no matter what you have heard, there is beauty in Black people. My pieces are for everyone, but that is my stance on my work.
Camerin “Camo” Nesbit is an artist and founder of CamoCustomz, based in his hometown of Pittsburgh. He paints murals, motor vehicles, “and almost anything else you can or should paint.” He has created public art in Pittsburgh, New York, Los Angeles, Miami, and in Ohio.