Lower Town residents may have noticed a few curious faces around the neighborhood since a new public art project was installed on the evening of July 3.

Proposed to the Lower Town Neighborhood Association by local artist Michael Terra, the project takes the form of beautified, beaded stop sign posts bearing faces, words and patterns in an effort to give the neighborhood a more artful character.

"Once you have entered the Lower Town Arts District, there's actually no visual clue that tells you you're in an arts district," said Terra, who moved to Paducah in 2008 as part of the Artist Relocation Program. "You'll get all the way to Broadway before you see anything of visual interest. We're letting people know that they've arrived and they should stop the car, get out and look around."

Over the last 18 months, four artists -- Char Downs, Kathleen Kelly, Deb Lyons and Terra -- have contributed to the project, which has fallen under the purview of the neighborhood association's Renegade Art Committee, a subgroup formed with the aim of bringing more public art to that corner of the city.

"This is an art neighborhood and we want it to be as unique as possible," said Downs, a multidisciplinary artist brought to the city through Artist Relocation Program 15 years ago. "I don't think I've seen anything like this in other neighborhoods I've been in. There are murals and things like that in other places, but this is really different."

Terra and the other artists are striving to "make something that is durable, requires no maintenance, that's engaging and family-friendly and basically allows people that have never been to Lower Town before to recognize that it is a center for the arts here in Paducah."

His inspiration for the project stemmed from a trip to New Orleans several years ago, where he had heard of some similar work. Even though he never tracked down the project to see it in person, the idea stuck with him.

"Public art can change the way that people feel and alter their personal emotional landscape," he said. "Not only does public art engage people's sense of whimsy and curiosity and their own personal mechanism for storytelling, but it gets people to stop just passing through."

The highest hope for Terra is that this artistic effort could wind up spurring improving "economic robustness and vitality" for the area.

"Investments in public art have some of the highest return rate in terms of transient money being spent in cities," Terra explained. "If you can get someone to stop their vehicle and get out, they're going to begin shopping and spending money in your community, money that would never have been spent there before."

Three stop signs have been done so far at the corners of Seventh and Madison, Seventh and Monroe and Sixth and Madison streets. With the cost of the project being covered by Lower Town Neighborhood Association members' dues, Terra hopes the effort can spread all around the neighborhood over the next few years.

"This is an infinitely expandable project and it's relatively low-cost," said the poet and sculptor. "It requires no maintenance and is completely conforming to county, city and state signage regulations.

"Public art is good," Terra added. "This could open up a whole world for people visiting the city."

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