In Post Office alley, the U-shaped walkway behind Fourth Street Live! and the Starks Garage, three men sit on a loading dock. They’re waiting on their next delivery truck to arrive, smoking cigarettes, and taking a look at some newly-painted back-of-building doors — the kind that, before today, most people probably wouldn’t notice.
“Eh, that one is sort of nice,” one of the men says, gesturing with his cigarette towards a door about 50 feet down the alley. It’s covered with the face of a cardinal, painted in wide burnt orange and red brushstrokes.
There are 10 other doors like this in the alleyway — one is coated in splashy geometric shapes, another depicts a woman overlooking the downtown skyline. Each is unique, but they are all apart of the new “Alley Gallery” project, an initiative of the Louisville Downtown Partnership (LDP).
“There are more than 300 service doors within the Central Business District that qualify for the program,” says Rebecca Matheny, executive director of LDP. “We are pleased that a number of downtown sponsors, including the Downtown Marriott, have already committed to another 15-to-20 doors, which will be completed soon.”
The initiative, Matheny says, is a way to rejuvenate forgotten places within downtown.
This isn’t a totally unique idea. There have been successful alleyway art projects in larger cities like New York and Los Angeles, as well as more regional urban areas like portions of downtown Chattanooga, Lexington and Cincinnati’s Over-the-Rhine corridor.
On a local level, Jim Wallace and Danice Creager of the Nelligan Art Alley Project have focused for several years on beautifying the alleyways of the Portland neighborhood.
But according to Ken Herndon, the special projects coordinator for LDP, the “Alley Gallery” project is an affordable way to introduce public art to a quadrant of downtown that, for the most part, has pretty bare walls.
“There’s Clarion Alley in San Francisco, but that’s painting the whole sides of buildings — it’s a huge project,” Herndon says. “We’d like to get to those places, but this is a way to do this at $645 or $1,200 a door — very affordable — get it out there, and begin to build the momentum for other things.”
Local artists are invited to submit existing work to be included in an online catalog from which sponsors may choose pieces to be reproduced in vinyl and installed on their property’s doors.
Additionally, there will soon be an online map so the public can tour the artworks.