FOR MUCH OF the early- and mid-20th century, Hot Springs’ Malvern Avenue—nationally known as Black Broadway—and the surrounding Pleasant Street Historic District, must’ve been a sight to see. Anchored by the four-story, block-spanning Woodmen of the Union Building—the structure boasted, among other amenities, a 75-room hotel and a 2,500-person auditorium that drew the likes of Count Basie and Duke Ellington—the commercial corridor represented a thriving community, a cultural hub with a mix of black- and white-owned businesses several paces ahead of its time.
Completed in May, the mural at 350 Malvern Ave. is very much a celebration of the area’s rich cultural heritage, depicting musicians and poets and artists. But it’s worth stressing that these individuals aren’t from the past. Instead, the 34 people shown marching in the mural, done by Pepe Gaka (aka Giuseppe Percivati) and Anthony Tidwell, the founder of Cutwell 4 Kids, an arts-education nonprofit, are all from this moment in time. They’re kids from the Hot Springs World Class High School Band. They’re residents, business owners, faces you’d see in passing around town. For a better sense of what—and who—went into the mural and what you should take away from it, we turned to Anthony for some insight.
1. Texture of the Beach:
“It’s like footprints in the sand. It represents the ancestors who made a path for them—made the path a little easier.”
Who else is in there? “Uhhhh, I’m in there,” Anthony says, laughing. “[Pepe] made me paint myself.”
3. Tim Anderson:
“It’s an unspoken language around here, that when you need help with something, that’s who you go to,” Anthony says of Tim Anderson, whom he works with at Tim’s Barber Shop. “That’s why he’s kind of in the back. You can’t really see him because he don’t like being out front. But honestly, if you need help in the community, in the black community in Hot Springs, that’s who you go to.”
4. Bud Kennedy:
Someone else Hot Springs residents might recognize? “Bud Kennedy—he’s been doing the Wednesday-night poetry for over like 30 years,” Anthony says. “He’s a trolley driver, so he’s got his trolley hat on in the mural.”
Muralist Pepe Gaka, aka Giuseppe Percivati, (not pictured)
“We worked together for 12-hour days for five weeks,” Anthony says. “And now he’s gone [from Hot Springs], and I kinda miss him a little bit. We are from two different worlds, two different perspectives on everything. But we clicked. Art brought us together.”
Hot Springs Residents:
“It’s more than just art,” he says. “It really gives us value, shows that people care about us, care about the community. We could’ve easily put Patti LaBelle or Duke Ellington [in the mural]. We could’ve easily done those. They’re easily recognized. But we wanted to do something different that would really help the community.”
Necessary Prep Work:
“There was a lot of prep work before we even started painting,” he says. After cutting down the vines and power-washing the wall, they patched the holes and applied a white primer, (in addition to leveling out the ground). Rather than projecting the image on the wall, they scaled the mural, breaking it into boxes. “We probably had 500 boxes.”
See the mural for yourself at 350 Malvern Ave. in Hot Springs. Learn more about the area’s history by checking out the Pleasant Street Historic District’s National Historic Register application, available online.