Delavan aiming to bring Walldogs murals to downtown

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Catherine W. Idzerda
Saturday, September 22, 2012

— It’s art.

No, it’s economic development.

No, it celebrates an advertising form that’s more than a century old.

No, it’s a way to bring more traffic downtown. More traffic means more business; more business means it’s economic development.

Any way you argue it, Delavan business owners and city officials think a plan to bring Walldogs murals to the city is good idea.

The Delavan city council last week approved a memorandum of understanding with Walldogs Public Art.

Walldogs is an informal group of artists who paint murals on the walls in the style of the large adverting murals so popular in the last century. They were called Walldogs because they worked like dogs on walls.

Now, instead of creating advertising murals, the Walldogs create murals that celebrate a city’s history.

For example, Delavan might decide to showcase the Bradley Knitting Mills, its circus heritage, the temperance settlement house or the city’s history as a summer resort destination.

Then, during a four-day event, which probably would be held in 2015, artists from around the country would descend on Delavan to paint.

The cost for between 18 and 20 murals would be $90,000, and the money would come from sponsorships. Some of the money for the event could come from room tax revenue. No general tax dollars would be used.

For downtown business owners, the proposal is a hopeful step toward economic development and the revitalization of the downtown.

Laura Jacobs-Welch, who owns the Brick Street Market, said business owners and city officials often get stuck in a “circular kind of thing.”

Should downtown improvements happen first, or does the traffic to downtown businesses need to increase before the improvements happen? But if the attractions aren’t there, will the traffic increase?

“You have to start somewhere,” Jacobs-Welch said. “There will be some unhappy people at some point, but at least you’ve pulled out of that circle.”

A Walldogs event takes a significant amount of work. Along with raising sponsorship money, picking mural topics, contacting business owners and preparing walls, a variety of legal issues have to be addressed.

Jacobs-Welch, who is president of the Downtown Business Association, hopes to get buy-in and hands-on help—that goes beyond attending meetings—from as many businesses and organizations as possible.

Colleen Cole, manager of the International Walldog Sign & Art Museum in Pontiac, Ill., said the Walldogs event helped tourism in her city.

Pontiac is on historic Route 66—but so are a lot of other towns, and the city wanted to distinguish itself.

“We have a Route 66 museum, and we saw a major increase in visitors after the murals were added,” Cole said.

The presence of the Walldogs museum and the existing Route 66 Museum attracted yet another museum to the small city, giving visitors more to do.

Last updated: 4:35 pm Tuesday, August 27, 2013

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