The Mount Hope Phoenix Mural and Economic Impacts of Public Art 


In Mount Hope, WV a vibrant mural resides on a main street building. “The Mount Hope Phoenix Wall”, by Ian Bode and Brian Pickens, is a visual representation depicting a town that rose from the ashes after the fire of 1910. The colorful painting features present and future possibilities for the town of Mount Hope. The large-scale art piece depicts scenes from the town’s history, iconic buildings and local recreational activities.

Three years ago, Active Southern West Virginia brought together stakeholders for a discussion focused on revitalizing Mount Hope. From that meeting, several projects were planned including a rail trail, a fitness trail with exercise stations, and a walking tour of town. Andy Davis, Active SWV’s Pedestrian, Bike and Trail Coordinator, has since put the fitness trail and stations in place, installed a bike repair station, and coordinated the purchase of property for the rail trail and the design for the mural project, all with the intention to reimagine Mount Hope as a destination for both historical tourism and business development. The Mount Hope Coalition team was formed and is comprised of members from Active Southern WV, Fayette County Urban Renewal Authority, Harmony for Hope, Crawford Holdings, Preserve WV AmeriCorps, National Coal Heritage Authority and the National Park Service. The Coalition was selected from Gateway Communities for National Parks from all throughout Appalachia.

The Coalition team commemorated the completion of the Mount Hope Phoenix Wall mural with a ribbon cutting ceremony on October 5th. Carrie Kidd, one of the Coalition members proudly described the multifaceted mural in her speech that evening as “A bold representation of Mount Hope’s connection to the area as the Gateway Community to the New River Gorge National Park. It’s called the Phoenix Wall because of the great Phoenix rising from the ashes of the fire of 1910 becoming one of the most profitable coal producing cities in WV. He is perched above the New River Gorge Bridge with his wings spread wide as he is welcoming the new economic opportunities the New River has brought our region and can one day bring to our own town. Spread throughout the mural you can some of our more prominent architectural and historically significant structures such as the Old DuBois High School, The Mountainair Hotel, the Mount Hope Municipal Stadium and the New River Company Store.  Filled in by characters representing a heritage which began when William Blake obtained this property from the Cherokee nation, spanning into the Civil war, lasting through the boom of the coal fields and then uniting as a community under the Friday night lights of the “Castle” stadium. Ian and Brian have colorfully created the spirit of what the past, present and future possibilities can be for Mount Hope.”

Active SWV is a founding partner of the Mount Hope Revitalization Coalition which was formed to participate in the Appalachian Regional Commission’s Gateway Communities Initiative Workshop in 2017. This partnership initiated the Mount Hope Phoenix mural as a way to facilitate more pedestrian traffic in Mount Hope and strengthen its cultural connection to the New River Gorge National River.

The Coalition members include Andrew Davis, Carrie Kidd, Kelly Jo Drey, Christie Bailey and Tighe Bullock. The Coalition hired Charleston artist, Ian Bode, and his frequent collaborator, Brian Pickens, of Morgantown, WV, to install the mural on Giuseppe’s Italian Restaurant on Main Street in downtown Mount Hope.The group then hired regionally local artists whose work celebrates the history and heritage of the area.  Art work featured from: Lisa Harrah – Fayetteville, WV; Sarah Cottingham – Morgantown, WV; Annie Simcoe – Western Maryland; and Sheryl Logan – Piney View, WV; are prominently displayed in the Main Street windows in Mount Hope’s Downtown Historic District.  Each piece was designed to incorporate an aspect of Mount Hope’s rich heritage and/or cultural connection to the region.

In addition to the works of public art commissioned by the Coalition, the group is developing a Historic Walking Tour in Mount Hope. The walking tour includes 18 historic structures and public art projects. A full-color brochure and downtown signage for the tour will be completed later this year. The Mount Hope Historic Walking Tour & Public Art project is designed to capitalize on Mount Hope’s beautiful, historic downtown district, which was listed on the National Register for Historic Places, as well as the community’s location as a gateway community to the New River Gorge National River.  It is the intention of the Coalition to focus on the unique cultural heritage and history of the Mount Hope area while supporting local artists through the commissioning of public art.  By highlighting the distinct quality of the downtown historic district, the group hopes to increase visitation to the Mount Hope area while attracting interest in private investment for historic preservation. Increasing awareness of Mount Hope’s trail networks and boosting physical activity is another goal of the Coalition.

The mural resides on one face of Giuseppe’s Italian Restaurant in Mount Hope. Geoffrey Williams, General Manager, reports on the mural, “As far as business goes it really draws your attention upon seeing it. It catches the eye of someone driving by, so they stop to look and take pictures. Those same people come in to eat and we gain their business. As far as community goes, it represents Mount Hope as a whole. If you are from Mount Hope you can look at everything on it and know what it is, giving a sense of pride. It is on Giuseppe’s wall, which has been in business for 30 years, so it’s a good place to represent the citizens.”

The mural connects to people on an emotional level, as most people can relate to a notion in the piece whether it be a location, a recreational activity or an industry. These connections go beyond feelings as they are significant economic indicators for the region. “The New River Gorge Area Economic Outlook 2019-2023” report published by the Bureau of Business and Economic Research of West Virginia University states, “Thanks to a wealth of available natural scenic attractions and outdoor-focused activities in the New River Gorge Area, such as whitewater rafting on the New and Gauley rivers, camping, hiking trails, biking, zip-line tours, not to mention the Summit-Bechtel Reserve, travel and tourism clearly plays a major role in the region’s economy. Furthermore, the industry accounts for a larger-than normal share of jobs in the region and has generally been one of the area’s few sources of stability in recent years, having held onto the jobs that were added prior to the region’s protracted economic downturn.” You can see almost all of these economies stimulating tourism related activities represented in the Mount Hope mural. Also, heavily represented are the icons influenced from Mount Hope and West Virginia’s history in timber, coal and the railways that supported them. The Economic Outlook Report also notes, “A substantial portion of the area’s historical foundation is traceable to coal mining and other resource-based industries such as timbering. As of 2017, natural resources and mining accounted for 5 percent of the region’s jobs; however, the sector’s relative capital intensity (and high wages paid to coal miners) pushes its overall share of output for the New River Gorge Area up by more than a factor of three.”

It is important for communities to have relatable art. Public art offers a sense of pride, unity and beautification. The president of Northwest Business for Culture and the Arts, J. Clayton Hering comments on public art, “The sign of a great state or a great city is the strength of its cultural life. Our non-profit arts groups are a powerful economic force, and act as a magnet for tourism. Even more important, they help educate and inspire our citizens and stimulate creativity in the workplace and in our schools.”Fortunately for Mount Hope and regional partners, this significance is understood.

Additional support for this project was provided by the National Park Service, the Appalachian Regional Commission, the National Endowment for the Arts, the Conservation Fund, the Greater Kanawha Valley Foundation, and Oak Hill Sherman Williams and Giuseppe’s Italian Restaurant. You can visit the Mount Hope Phoenix Wall on Main Street in Mount Hope.

Learn more about Active SWV’s involvement with the community in the Active SWV Bike Walk program here.

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