There are over 900 streets in the U.S. named after Martin Luther King Jr. A new documentary, America’s Boulevard, from Birmingham-based creative studio 1504, focuses in on just one of them in Chattanooga. Although its past isn’t unique — a once flourishing commerce street left empty and dilapidated after the rush to the suburbs in the 1950s — its revitalization is.
Soon after Chattanooga’s East 9th Street was renamed Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard in 1981, a large section of what had been a bustling economic center for the city’s African American community had been paved over to make way for an AT&T building: one of those soaring, windowless concrete monoliths that puts function far over form. It was seen as Chattanooga’s Berlin Wall, splitting the future prosperity unequally.
In America’s Boulevard, director Tyler Jones documents how Chattanooga is using a giant mural covering the building’s walls as a symbol of unity and a billboard for the area’s urban revival.
“We were interested in the role that public art can play in community development,” he says. “Especially when it encourages a dialogue about race and socioeconomic issues. Similar to the mural itself, one of our goals with the film was to explore how urban neighborhoods may retain their historical identities despite evolving with new residents.”
The mural, painted by renown Philadelphia-based muralist Meg Saligman, titled “The M.L. King Mural: We Will Not Be Satisfied Until” covers 42,179 square feet with colorful, towering neoclassical-like depictions of Chattanooga citizens from all backgrounds.
Jones, along with producers Mark Slagle and Andrew Beck Grace, show Chattanooga at a crossroads of change while exploring the intersection of public art and redevelopment from the perspectives of local residents and non-local artists who come together to ask: “What do we want to preserve in our collective memories?”
To see how Saligman and Chattanooga residents plan, develop and react to the mural, view the 12-minute version above or click here to see the full documentary.