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VOL. 133 | NO. 175 | Tuesday, September 4, 2018

Arkansas Town's Mayor Hopes Mural Will Attract Visitors

The Associated Press

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BLACK OAK, Ark. (AP) — A new mural is giving drivers pause in Black Oak. And most are pulling over for an extended look. Three large panels — one displaying a portrait of famed author John Grisham, who set his novel "A Painted House" in the city, one displaying a field of lily-white cotton and one, a re-creation of 1973's "High on the Hog" album by hometown Southern rock supergroup Black Oak Arkansas — are the latest additions to the small town.

"This has been a dream of mine," Black Oak Mayor Eddie Dunigan said.

Using an elevated work platform, local artists Brooke Aguilar and Candice Dunigan have painted the three scenes, along with a welcome sign stretching at least 15 feet up the north wall of a downtown building the mayor hopes will soon house a Black Oak museum, featuring memorabilia from the band, the author and the town's history.

"We've got two major draws in this town," he said. "We've never capitalized on it. We sat here, and we died."

That's been the mission, he said, to use Black Oak's pop culture fame to help undo years of population and economic loss. It's off to a good start, he said.

"People will come," he said. "They're making pictures right and left, every day people are stopping and getting pictures made in front of these murals."

Fans of Black Oak Arkansas are like that, he said. The band posted 10 charting albums in the 1970s and toured worldwide, building millions of fans with thrilling live performances. Those who loved the music then still love it now, he said.

"People aren't going to drive from New York City to see my grandfather's John Deere plow that was pulled by a mule, but they'd come to see something about Black Oak Arkansas or something about John Grisham, so we want to emphasize that while making sure there's enough stuff for everyone here."

And once in Black Oak, visitors will want to eat, preferably something local, Dunigan said. A grant to the city helped pay Aguilar and Candice Dunigan, who is the mayor's daughter-in-law, for their work on the murals and will help cover some restoration of the museum building, the Jonesboro Sun reported. The building was donated to the city by Wanda Carroll, of Jonesboro, the mayor said.

Another grant should help visitors find a restaurant, he said. Businesses have been reluctant to open in Black Oak because it has no sewer system, but a $1.9 million U.S. Department of Agriculture grant will cover the cost of closing down residents' septic tanks and connecting sewer lines to the nearby city of Monette's sewer plant, as part of an agreement with the neighboring town.

That's good news, even for Black Oak resident Rachel Hickman, whose relatively new home operates on a septic tank.

"I'm very excited about all of it," she said. "We've had problems with our septic tank, and it's brand new."

The public art is also great for the town's pride, she said.

"There's a lot of history here, and it's exciting to get people talking about it," she said.

While painting, Aguilar and Candice Dunigan said they've had time to enjoy the celebrity of their work. The parking lot next to the mural is a common place for passers-by to pull off and look on at the work being done.

"The thing we hear all the time is, 'This is the best thing that's happened in Black Oak in as long as I can remember,'" Aguilar said.

Candice Dunigan, who is a native of Black Oak, said there's a lot of weight in the project.

"There's a lot of pressure because everyone loves Black Oak Arkansas and John Grisham, and I want it to be something that they're proud of," she said. "It's been great to see how excited the people are.

"It's given the people of Black Oak hope that there's something more coming to this place."

Copyright 2018 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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