ARROW Public Art welcomes one and all to Monroe…AND West Monroe

Brooke Foy is an artist and sculptor originally from West Monroe, Louisiana. She moved away from Louisiana for 10 years but came back when she got assistant professorship at the University of Louisiana Monroe teaching art history and sculpture.

In moving back home she observed that the amount of art in her area was lacking.

“We didn’t have very much and what we did have was very old,” she states. “Within a year I decided I wanted to create a business to help facilitate more art, more revitalization, more growth, more community engagement, and a more civic-minded approach to art as well.”

She formed ARROW (Artists Radically Reinventing Our World) Public Art in 2015, and immediately began reaching out to other organizations and stakeholders in the city of West Monroe – arts organizations, chambers of commerce, economic development organizations, and more, with the intent that, together, they collectively could “make things happen and shake things up.”

Volunteers help paint “One Mile of Love.”

The first project the organization took on was called “One Mile of Love.”

“That really helped anything I ever want to do with ARROW Public Art to be possible,” says Foy.

The project involved a mile-long sea wall in the community that was painted mostly brown. Foy lived at end of it and saw it every day. She came up with the idea to engage elementary schools, middle schools, and community business to support a project that created an opportunity for kids in the parish to reimagine that sea wall.

Kids were to submit drawings based on a template given to teachers so they could do this in the classroom. They were asked to draw something related to the community – whether it was about picnics or their family or anything about what they like about West Monroe and what it means to them.

ARROW received 3,000 drawings from the parish, which they then narrowed down to 282 drawings that were transformed into paintings on the sea wall. Images included scenes of sports, camping, farming, and other activities related to the community, and were painted to create a narrative about the community.

Over the summer of 2015 and ending in October of that year, ARROW held three community paint days so the community could also help paint the mural (set up in a paint-by-numbers way). Each day they had anywhere from 200 to 2,000 feet of the mural to paint, and over 500 people came out to help.

In addition to the 282 kids whose drawings appeared in the final mural, the project also “reached out through the creation of the artwork, uniting everyone in the idea of community art, and they got to participate as well.”

The mayor of the city supported the project and funded 50% of it, and they also included space on the mural for sponsorship to garner additional funding.

ARROW’s second project was a community revitalization project, restoring four vintage Coca-Cola murals in the “Twin Cities,” Monroe and West Monroe. Other regular projects include creating and painting logos for businesses in the two cities.

The organization’s most recent project is the Twin Cities Mural Project, creating two new postcard murals – one for Monroe, one for neighboring West Monroe – in the style of vintage “Greetings From…” postcards, with giant block letters spelling out the city names filled with images that reference landmarks and businesses important to each city. The murals are intended to showcase “who we are for people who live here and also for visitors,” Foy explains.

“West Monroe and Monroe are only divided by a river, but there are two mayors, two city councils, two city chambers. And the river is the only thing dividing it. We want to create opportunities to unite the two cities.”

The Coca-Cola mural restoration project had two murals in each city, and now the Twin City Mural Project replicates that with one mural in each city. Foy wants to do more projects that encourage exchanges between the two cities so they are no longer so culturally divided.

Emery Thibodeaux and Brooke Foy at work on the Twin City Mural Project.

ARROW is also responsible for the return of the Downtown Art Festival, which ended in 2008. In 2016 ARROW was able to bring it back, featuring 75 artists selling entirely hand-made works and drawing in 1,000 visitors to enjoy a day of art, food, and music in West Monroe. Proceeds were re-invested into downtown revitalization efforts through ARROW’s nonprofit partners in the festival, and were also reinvested into their own projects, including the Twin Cities Mural Project.

ARROW now has a permanent home at The Garrett House, the oldest building in Monroe that was once a law office and is now a gallery space and art center that is one of the nine participating galleries in the Downtown Gallery Crawl held roughly every other month in Monroe. The space also hosts workshops and is available for private events like kids birthday parties and scout meetings. There is also a community garden outside.

“[Through the Garrett House] we’re trying to reach out to the community in a different way,” says Foy.

She says she couldn’t be where she is with ARROW today if it wasn’t part of the university system. Through the University she is able to reach out to students and embed them into the Monroe/West Monroe community through these projects. Students also provide much-needed volunteer assistance in the gallery crawls and mural painting. The University itself is granting her a lot of opportunities as well, she says, but ultimately ARROW is about being a collaborative partner within the community, working with business, nonprofits, chambers, and other organizations to revitalize the area and build a sense of community pride.

“We are cultivating public art through collaboration.”

(1) How do you like to collaborate?
Collaboration for me involves discussions with community members from the idea phase of a project to actually teaming up with organizations and community members to make projects happen.

(2) How do you a start a project?
I have a HUGE list of project that are on my docket.  But a project has not begun until I have a budget, partners and some idea of the funding situation.

(3) How do you talk about your value?
The value of what I am bringing to my community is the most important aspect to my projects.  You can not replace these works of art and each one adds new character to our place while building investment in the community!

(4) How do you define success? 
Personally I need to be continuously working on projects and physically connected to the making of things.   My success is measured by the ideas that I can come up with, what I can achieve in a certain amount of time, and how our community feels about the end result.  If a project is successful in the eyes of the community I feel like that was a WIN.  With each project I am working harder and harder to achieve more and bigger for myself and my community.

(5) How do you fund your work? 
Funding is always something that we take project by project.  Some projects are funded directly by our community/city but most of the time we find organizations to partner with to write grants.  We almost always have some sort of private funding attached to a project as we feel the more the community can connect to a project the more investment we will get in the long run.