From a certain shall we say “comfortable” life perspective Park Place has long been a neighborhood you get through, not go to.
Hampton Boyer’s new mural, “Wish You Were Here,” painted on the Ghent Self Storage building across from Toast on Colonial, offers a powerful counter-message to this narrative.
“You know how Got Milk ads make you feel a certain way? I want to do for the city something that’s a spiritual advertisement in a way,” said Boyer, creative director at 670 Gallery in Hampton and one of the most productive, brave, and sweet muralists in Hampton Roads.
The piece was supported by Vince Mastracco and Rick Jackson and commissioned by David Hausmann and John Porter, two guys who, along with Kevin O’Connor, deserve a medal from the City of Norfolk’s department of economic development for all the work they’ve done to make Park Place a more viable place to start a business, eat, shop, and create a home. Landmark restaurants will do that: in Toast and Handsome Biscuit, Park Place can boast two of the region’s most tasty, unique, and stylish restaurants.
“We’re trying to get some of the mural energy that’s been happening in the city dedicated to Park Place,” said Hausmann. “Same mission as with the NEON District—bringing some life into it. Just like there are a thousand reasons to approach or build up the NEON District, there are just as many to apply to Park Place. We’re sprouting new life.”
With all due respect to the public art in the NEON, in a certain way what’s happening in Park Place is far more important. At the start of the NEON movement there were very few residents in that neighborhood. Park Place has been people’s home for a century, since it was a trolley stop community. As public and private money has flooded Old Dominion University to the north and Ghent to the south, Park Place has largely been ignored by the powers that be. More than hipsters need to feel chic, our poorer residents need hope. Every neighborhood deserves to feel the love, a love Hausmann and Porter are so generously spreading.
“I see the neighborhood headed in all positive directions,” said Hausmann, who himself lives in Park Place. “Lots of experimental mixed-use in the industrial block, and then fun extensions into residential. Constantly promoting a multi-cultural, vibrant lifestyle. Since living over here it has promoted much more curious and knowledgeable behavior from my part, rather than sort of ignorant distaste from what you don’t get to see everyday.”
Nobody is trying to sugarcoat Park Place. With concentrated poverty you get your characters on the streets. In my experience, both in Park Place and in other mixed income, mixed race neighborhoods, when you are respectful and kind, you get the same thing back.
“I wanted to create something in the area to induce the feeling of rising above,” said Boyer, a Newport News resident who studied photography at Thomas Nelson. “There’s a lot that can bring someone down. You often have to carry this motto within yourself to rise above the situation. We kind of live in a crazy world today. The various amounts of green that’s in the mural is something nice to look at. It’s soothing to the eyes—it was soothing to me as I painted it.”
“Wish You Were Here” finds its power in green, the color of life, a color of hope. A character emerges from the thicket of green, not just taking the hope with him, but becoming that hope, letting it grow from his own roots. The design and intent are emblematic of Boyer’s postive-minded design firm, Heaven, Yeah!
“Every day I noticed there were kids getting off the bus excited to see the progress,” said Boyer, who painted the mural over 8 days this fall. “And then normal people walking by saying, Looks great! In times of doubt it helps keep you going.”
The doubt will always be there–about Park Place, about the less financially comfortable members of our community, within our hearts. I’m thankful for people like Hampton and Dave who make sure the lights in the tower always stay lit.
“Our vision for Park Place is not rapid change,” said Hausmann, who has owned businesses Downtown and in Ghent, but who seems to have come into his own in Park Place. “It’s making sure the core identity stays, but with an increase in things to do, people to see, events, small parks, and some more of the Jeffersonian urban planning involved so the walkability remains high.”
Keep painting. Keep preaching. Keep inviting people not just to Park Place but to be here with us in a more positive, community-centric mentality.