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Artists begin work on Newport floodwall murals

First mural depicts historic African American Southgate Street School

NEWPORT, Ky. — Artists are beginning work this week on the first in a series of murals commemorating Newport’s 225th anniversary that are planned for the city’s floodwall that runs along Dave Cowens Drive.

The first mural will depict and honor the students and teachers of The Southgate Street School, an historic African American school — the only one in Campbell County — that operated from the post Civil War era until 1955 when Brown vs. Board of Education desegregated schools. The public art project is a collaboration of The City of Newport, Southbank Partners, the Northern Kentucky University Scripps Howard Center for Civic Engagement and The Newport History Museum @ The Southgate Street School.

Learn more about the murals project by clicking on to this informational website.

The goal of the project is to connect students and the community through publicly informed mural designs that celebrate Newport’s history while lengthening the spectrum of arts and cultural heritage offerings available to the general public.

The lead artist on the inaugural Education Empowers mural is Gina Erardi, who recently graduated from NKU with a bachelor’s degree in fine art in painting. She became inspired by the story of The Southgate Street School when two former students of the school told their stories to one of her college arts classes.

“When I actually met the former students of The Southgate Street School, I was so moved by their hopefulness and the dedication of their teachers, despite the many challenges they had to overcome,” Erardi said. “I wanted to create a mural that celebrated the lives of the students and of the black educators who helped shift our society in the right direction, though we still have work to do as a whole.”

“It is important to continue to hear from the people who lived through these experiences in history,” she said.

Virinda Garland Doddy, who was in the last first grade class at The Southgate Street School, helped provide inspiration and guidance to Erardi as she designed the mural, which depicts a teacher and a student at a chalkboard and the portrait of a college graduate linked together by the flow of colorful waves. Two of her brothers also attended the school.

“The city of Newport has done an outstanding job making sure we appreciate and learn the history of the Southgate Street School and all that is accomplished and stands for,” said Garland Doddy, who went on to graduate from Newport High School and was the first black graduate of NKU’s Human Services program. “I am honored to be a part of this. The students who went to the school received a great education because the teachers instilled in us the desire to do well in school.”

Planning for the murals began several years ago as the city worked with former students of The Southgate Street School on a project to preserve the legacy of the school and convert the school building into The Newport History Museum @ The Southgate Street School.

“The legacy of The Southgate Street School is that despite what was happening outside of the school’s walls, inside there were no color lines, no racism and no limits to what the students could strive and dream to accomplish,” said Newport Historic Preservation Officer Scott Clark.

Majority funding for the project was provided through a $13,120 grant from the 410, a giving circle of the Horizon Community Funds. Southbank Partners applied for the 410 grant, drawn to the project because of its visibility as it will become part of Riverfront Commons, the nearly 12-mile urban walking and biking path Southbank is developing in Northern Kentucky’s river cities.

“Southbank Partners is focused on the economic and community development of the river cities, but we can never forget where we came from and our community’s important historic moments, people and achievements,” said Southbank Partners President Jack Moreland. “Southbank is forever grateful for the 410 grant and honored to be a part of the collaborative effort that is making the murals a reality.”

In keeping with the project’s theme of community engagement, a volunteer day will be held on July 18 for those interested in helping with mural installation.

Funds are being raised to commission eight more murals to celebrate Newport’s diverse past that may depict:

  • Prehistoric will depict the Age of Fishes through an ancient fish, a giant mollusk and a mastodon.
  • Indigenous will be done in collaboration with the NKU Native American Student Association and depict mound builders and other Native American groups.
  • 1800’s will depict General James Taylor, the Newport Barracks along with the West End Newport’s working-class pride.
  • 1860’s will depict Civil War Abolitionists including abolitionist newspaper publisher William S. Bailey and abolitionists Ira and Sarah Root.
  • 1895-1920’s will depict suffrage and the fact that Newport was one of just three cities in Kentucky that registered black women to vote.
  • 1930’s-60’s will depict Newport’s Sin City days, including prohibition; Newport’s lush economy, culture, entertainment, music and nightlife; the creation of the Tommy Gun machine gun; and the community creating its own prosperity through the Great Depression.
  • 1970’s will depict local basketball legend Dave Cowens, a Newport Catholic Graduate who is one of the NBA’s greatest players and the namesake of Davie Cowens Drive
  • 1980’s -now will depict contemporary and future scenes that are yet to be determined.