A new public art installation — funded by the city of Paducah and the Yeiser Art Center — was completed this week with the painting of a mural on the fence in front of the former Kresge building site on Broadway Street.

The mural, painted by local artist Toney Little, depicts the steps to fold a modular origami star. Little wanted to create an interactive piece that connected Paducah with origami as another pattern-based art form, in addition to the city’s tradition of quilting.

Paducah Main Street Director Katie Axt is thrilled with Little’s work. Her hope for the project, which has come together over the past few months, was to create something that was “beautiful, that emphasized our creative city and worked with a local artist to commission the work and contain the dust and debris of a construction site behind a fence.

“This was an effort to improve the site and beautify it by working with local partners.”

One of the keys for Axt and the city was Little’s focus on something that could creative interactivity within safe bounds during this COVID-19 crisis.

“Somebody could look at it and actually follow the steps to create their own origami piece. It’s not just a pretty picture but it’s something that people can do and learn in a new way,” she said. “I love what Toney is trying to do by connecting us to another culture, to another country. That really speaks to us as a UNESCO Creative City.”

Little’s inspiration comes from his significant other.

“My fiancée, Jean Rhodes, folds modular origami in her creative time and we began to talk about what a giant instruction sheet would look like,” he said. “People can photograph the mural and then learn how to make the star, or take the instruction sheets we’re going to provide home with them also.”

Little plans to mount a placard with written instructions and a box with origami folding paper on the site for those who want to try their hand at the craft.

As a whole, the piece cost $8,000. The city put up $5,000 in programmatic funding to install the wooden fence and the Yeiser is paying $3,000 to commission Little. The mural will be up anywhere from three to five years.

Yeiser Executive Director Lexie Millikan was happy her institution was able to give an artist like Little an opportunity like this in the middle of a pandemic.

“We were really happy to be able to offer an opportunity for an artist right now. I think it just helps the community right now when it’s been such a difficult time for people,” she said. “They haven’t had as much interaction with each other and maybe haven’t had as much access to the arts. It’s a good thing for the community and for artists here.”

Millikan expects to announce Yeiser’s programming involving the mural in the coming months, as social distancing and public health guidelines allow.

One of the big hopes for Millikan is that this project results in the creation of more public art around the city.

“We have a lot of spaces that I think could benefit from this kind of artwork downtown, and we certainly have the creativity here for people that can carry out this kind of project,” she said. “Hopefully we can work with the other artists who submitted for future projects.”

Public art, she continued, can inspire area residents and make a big impression on visitors.

“They see that kind of artwork and it makes this a place that people want to come back to or move to when they see the arts are really being supported in the community,” Millikan added.

Little couldn’t agree more.

“Murals are an integral public feature of basically every large city,” he said. “We’re not large, but we’re an art town and we should have more free, accessible public art.”

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