Doraville celebrates a new mural in Pinetree Plaza to promote its small businesses after removing a ban on public art
The mural is the first step in a long-term plan to increase public art in the area to stimulate economic engagement in the community.
By Phoebe Quinton. **This story is written by 285 South Contributor Phoebe Quinton, who is working with me this summer! Learn more about Phoebe - her background and why she's interested in writing about the diverse communities of Atlanta - in this Q and A with 285 South.**
On an overcast Saturday morning in July, more than 50 people gathered in Pinetree Plaza to commemorate a new mural of an array of the diverse foods served in the plaza, painted by Filipino-American artist Leah Abucayan. Although dark clouds and muggy Georgia heat shrouded the parking lot, faces in the crowd shone bright with smiles, mirroring the bold colors of the mural in front of them.
The event featured free COVID-19 vaccines, a ribbon cutting with the Mayor, and opening remarks in English, Spanish, and Chinese. After the ceremony, attendees enjoyed ice cream, soda, and a small display on future public art plans for the city.
"We're hoping that we can represent our community and promote our businesses at the same time," said Emily Heenan, spokesperson for the City of Doraville. The goal of the mural, she explained, is not only to celebrate the community, but also to increase foot traffic in the area.
David Koonvirarak, owner of ICENY, a Thai ice cream shop in the plaza, hopes that the mural will attract more tourists, making Buford Highway a food destination. Already, he says, customers travel from Athens and Tennessee to try Koonvirarak's mango sticky rice ice cream, which has been featured on Tik Tok.
"We want to be like a Chinatown for Atlanta," he said. "People come out here to celebrate, to eat ethnic food and authentic food, and we want to keep it that way."
He also wants to see more artwork to bring a fresher look to the area. "When I come here, I love the area, but I want to improve the way that people see Buford Highway by ambiance, cleanliness, and customer service," he said.
David Koonvirarak and his ice cream station at the mural event.
"You drive around, and you see all the signs, and you just get exhausted," he said. Koonvirarak thinks that murals will be a great alternative to the overwhelming signs, giving the area a more unified and cheerful appearance.
Outside of the event, business owners are less enthusiastic about the mural, but not opposed to it. "I don't care," said a local businessman. "It doesn't matter whether people come by or not." He conducts most of his business online as a wholesaler, and sometimes turns away in person customers because they typically do not purchase in bulk.
Interest in the art may spread to more businesses as the city continues its plan of building a walkway and adding more murals to the area. This fall, the city plans to engage local highschooler students to paint a walkway leading pedestrians from this original mural to the sidewalk on Buford Highway. As part of the Doraville Art Master plan, adopted this January, the city is recruiting artists and businesses to fill the city with more murals, sculptures, and other public art forms. An application for interested artists is available on their website.
The mural comes after a ban on public art which was lifted only two years ago.
"Five years ago, when I was a newly elected city council member, I didn't know that public art was illegal in The City of Doraville," the Mayor Joseph Geierman said. "I went to our city staff at the time, to our mayor at the time, and they said, 'Well, there's not much we can do because our law doesn't permit public art.'"
He thanked Council Member Stephe Koontz for her work establishing an Art Commission and overturning the ban. "It's hard for me to describe how proud I am of our city council today and of our city staff who have worked hard to make murals like this possible in our city," said Mayor Geierman.
Already, the mural appears to have its intended effect bringing people together and keeping them in the area to enjoy businesses. Koonvirarak distributed all the ice cream that he brought to the event. When rain began to drizzle, a couple of umbrellas popped open, but nobody ran for their cars. People stayed, enjoying their ice creams.