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Creativity Transforms Rutherford County into a Colorful Canvas

An active cultural scene has this Middle Tennessee region sparkling with public art.

By Rebecca Treon on September 17, 2021

murfreesboro mural

While it is close to Nashville, Rutherford County has its own distinct flavor, especially when it comes to arts and culture.

The Rutherford Arts Alliance, a nonprofit that connects creatives across genres to participate in community art projects, has helped stoke the community’s creative fire.

“I’m so proud of our community for doing initiatives, lifting artists up, connecting people and showing off the wonderful resources we have right here in our county,” says Kory Wells, an author and former poet laureate of Murfreesboro, TN. “We have people coming together that really represent the wide range of diversity of the people who live here, and I think that embracing our creative culture is a way we’re furthering our own identity and celebrating it.”

woman painting mural

Rutherford County Public Spaces Shine With Art

The community encompasses a range of cultural mediums: poetry, theater, photography and live music, to name a few. Art in public spaces has become a Rutherford County staple, including the collection of almost 70 colorful murals gracing the sides of local buildings, creating a selfie trail for visitors.

Whether you snap photos in front of local landmarks on the side of East Street Market or stand along some of Murfreesboro’s notable women, your walking tour will have plenty of stops on the way.

“The more public art you’ve got out there, the more it makes your town look and feel vibrant. The end result is that you have a community that has a bunch of different options as people walk around to take a selfie,” says Susan Gulley, director of cultural and heritage tourism at the Rutherford County Convention & Visitors Bureau. “When people walk down the street, they get a little history or art lesson. The murals help spring tourism and are a great marker for finding landmarks.”

The murals have been a way the communities of Smyrna, La Vergne, Eagleville and Murfreesboro have fostered community togetherness while showcasing local talent — some have even invited school children to get in on the action.

From butterfly wings and old-fashioned postcard images to inspiring quotes, murals have transformed city blocks into destinations.

art on barn

Barn Quilt Trail Runs Through Rutherford County

Rutherford County is also part of a massive public art movement that has spread into 48 states and beyond — the Barn Quilt Trail.

“There are barns in rural areas that have painted quilt squares on them, and it gets people out into the community,” Gulley says. “Some of them have stories as to why — but it’s so cool when you’re driving down the road, and maybe you see some cows, and all of a sudden there’s artwork.”

downtown mural of leading ladies

Leading Ladies Adorn Murfreesboro Mural

A project sponsored in part by the Rutherford Arts Alliance, the Leading Ladies of Rutherford County History celebrates the women throughout history who have been influential in making the county what it is today. The project began as a play called Party of Twelve by Mary Donnet Johnson. It was set to coincide with the 100th anniversary of women getting the right to vote.

The premise is a college student preparing a speech for her women’s history class, and the local women come to her in a vision to share their story. “We came up with a website and a podcast featuring all these different women, and it’s grown from 12 to 26 now,” Gulley says.

The project has also produced a virtual video tour that includes some of the historic locations. There is also a mural in Murfreesboro. The women depicted include Lacy Burke Maney, an enslaved woman who obtained freedom; June Anderson, a chemist and professor; and Sarah K. Polk, wife of the former president.

“There’s been a coming together of people helping research and community members telling stories to honor some of these women who were leading ladies and involved in Rutherford County history,” Wells says.

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