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Mural on Newport's flood wall will showcase city's rich, diverse history

Historic Southgate Street School featured in first panel
Posted at 6:01 PM, Jul 16, 2020
and last updated 2020-07-16 18:13:08-04

NEWPORT, Ky. — The gray facade of Newport’s flood wall on Dave Cowens Drive will soon be transformed into a colorful public art display showcasing the city’s 225 years of diverse history.

“As part of that celebration, we have been putting together a series of murals to go along the flood wall,” said Newport assistant manager Larisa Sims. “Starting with the age of fishes all the way to modern times. We have a lot of space to work with.”

An important part of Newport’s history, the Southgate Street School, was located just a few blocks away from the flood wall and will be the subject of the first panel to be completed in the project.

Newport Mural in progress
“We just finished laying in all the shapes, all the lines. We’re about to start filling in some things.” Gina Erardi, Lead artist and designer of the mural taking shape on Newport's flood wall, said she was inspired by the Southgate Street School for the project's first design.

The school opened after the Civil War to educate the sons and daughters of former slaves. It was the first of its kind for Black students in Campbell County and continued to teach children until it closed in 1955.

Lead artist Gina Erardi said the school was her inspiration for the design of the mural project. She started working on the concept more than a year ago, while she was still in school at Northern Kentucky University.

“Through that class we were able to meet some of the former students of the Southgate Street School, which is now the building of the Newport History Museum,” Erardi said.

The first mural she designed shows a young Black student working on a chalkboard with her teacher overseeing her work. In the foreground, there is a large portrait of a Black woman in a graduation cap and gown. Bold waves of color connect the two scenes.

“You assume that the student on the left is the same student who therefore graduates on the right in college,” Erardi said.

Newport mural first panel full
"Education Empowers" is the title of the first panel of the mural designed by Northern Kentucky University graduate Gina Erardi. The design honors the Southgate Street School, the first all-Black school in Campbell County that operated from after the Civil War to the 1950s.

The full project will take five years to complete, with a total of 19 panels decorating the flood wall.

“We plan to do historic concepts for every other wall, so nine total historical walls and then every other wall will be the bold wave pattern,” Erardi said.

Sims said she hopes the 19 panels serve a dual purpose for anyone who walks or drives by.

“So what we hope is folks come away obviously with an appreciation for public art, but also a little bit more information about Newport’s rich history,” she said.

Members of the public sign can up to paint a piece of the mural. For more information on how to volunteer, click here.