Over the last year, new murals have made an appearance throughout Hattiesburg. These murals were created by the Hattiesburg Alliance for Public Art (HAPA), which just completed its newest mural project this past week. The mural was worked on in collaboration with Laughs 4 Life and is titled ‘Hub City, Smile’.
Work on ‘Hub City, Smile’ began on Sep. 1 and finished on Sep. 10. The mural is located on Mobile Street near The Lucky Rabbit and Bottling Company, featuring an inspiring message alongside a standalone larger-than-life smile.
HAPA, a program of VisitHATTIESBURG, began in 2014 by community members and donors passionate about publicly sharing accessible art. Over the last six years, HAPA has purchased and placed art throughout the city in parks, neighborhoods, public buildings and businesses while also raising awareness for works of art already in the area.
“Partnerships within the community have allowed HAPA to increase local public art this year more than ever before,” Marlo Dorsey, Executive Director of VisitHATTIESBURG, said. “By joining with Laughs 4 Life on this mural, we will continue to elevate Hattiesburg’s outdoor space with inviting public art containing meaningful messages that a diverse and vast audience of locals and visitors will enjoy.”
Laughs 4 Life is a non-profit group with the mission of generating smiles and laughter throughout the Hub City. Established in 2016 in response to founder Kent Oliver’s personal cancer battle, Laughs 4 Life has contributed nearly $600,000 to organizations that help those facing cancer and other health conditions both locally and statewide. Laughs 4 Life intends to bring more smiles to the Hattiesburg community through its efforts, including this gift of public art.
“Laughs 4 Life felt the presence of a physical smile within the overall mural design was an important component,” Oliver said. “We wanted to create a destination for people to proudly showcase their happiness, and we hope the sharing of this joy through pictures across social media or other platforms will allow the community to embrace the role of spreading happiness throughout the region.”
The artist of the mural is River Prince, the owner and operator of Prince Sign Co., which does murals, hand-painted signage and fabricated signs. Prince said he was excited to work with Oliver and Dorsey on the mural.
Prince explained that, as he went back and forth with Oliver and Dorsey on what the mural should be, they landed on something outside of the box. They decided to do a mural with a smile structure in the front of it for people to immerse themselves with it.
“I hope they take [the message] intentionally and directly as it says and I hope it puts a smile on their face,” Prince said. “The world is crazy enough and hopefully this will show that there is more positivity than there is negativity.”
Prince hopes people passing by will smile and spread that cheer publically and on social media. Prince said the owners of the building the mural is located on, Harry and Marcia Goff of Hattiesburg, allowed the mural to be painted to spread positivity through downtown Hattiesburg.
“As we grow public art’s footprint in Hattiesburg, it really is our vision to be a welcoming and creative destination for everyone,” Dorsey said. “We all know that 2020 has presented a lot of curveballs to us and we have all had to really pause and reflect on many things and what matters to us.”
Dorsey said when Oliver initially brought the ‘Hub City, Smile’ project to HAPA, it made him realize that, in times of adversity and in challenges, laughter is the best medicine. Dorsey said it was fitting to have a huge smile for people to enjoy in downtown Hattiesburg, especially nowadays.
“I was kind of taken by two things when I was driving over here, [the first being] just how timely this is, we know how 2020 has been just a year and it isn’t even close to being over with,” Mayor Toby Barker said. “The message here of ‘we’re going to get through this’ and it says despite having to worry about infection rates, and hospitalizations, our city is still making progress.”
Barker, who was present for the Sep. 10 ribbon cutting ceremony for ‘Hub City, Smile’, said the mural shows the strength of the city’s citizens, showing off their talent and diversity and overall passion for Hattiesburg.
“We had the realization that Laughs 4 Life, like so many other events, were not going to move forward the same way that it has in the past, and with that said we didn’t see it as an obstacle we couldn’t overcome,” Oliver said. “As we thought further about the fact there wasn’t going to be an event, we thought that event is only built around one night, so what could we do to take the vision and enhance it throughout the community on a more permanent basis.”
Oliver said Laughs 4 Life was glad to have had the chance to partner with HAPA and Prince and created a mural with a meaningful and lasting impact throughout the community.
“The comma following Hub City is very intentional[.] [It’s] a reminder to us all to pause, a reminder to our community to find positive things within sometimes difficult circumstances,” Oliver said.