Local residents may have noticed new murals colorfully splashing the walls of previously gray, unadorned buildings and businesses throughout Broome County.

The creation of the artwork is the product of the iDistricts Murals & Mosaics Public Art Program. Funded by a $240,000 grant from the New York State Department of State, the project is a collaboration between the Broome County Arts Council (BCAC) and the Broome County Planning Department (BCPD). Their aim is to vibrantly reimagine Broome County’s innovation districts — aka iDistricts — by hiring artists to create 28 murals and mosaics throughout Binghamton, Johnson City and Endicott. Nancy Barno Reynolds, who has served as the executive director of the BCAC since 2018, spoke about the effort.

“The county was interested in changing and improving the perception of Binghamton, Johnson City and Endicott, which were formerly industrial, corporate areas in the county,” Reynolds said. “In an effort to help these areas that were filled with families and industry before, there’s a great revitalization effort going on, and part of that revolves around the arts.”

Over the course of three weeks, a web page was created and marketing for the project began. However, hopes for a smooth launch were short-lived when a week after the call for artists was launched in early 2020, COVID-19 erupted and lockdown measures were put into place.

“We were like, ‘Oh my God, no one’s gonna apply!’” Reynolds said.

Yet in spite of the overwhelming hurdle the COVID-19 pandemic posed, 50 artists from across the world applied over three weeks, 35 of whom qualified under state requirements. From there, artists were assigned business owners, who had selected them using a blind viewbook and were matched with their top choices. The selected artists were given significant creative freedom when it came to their designs, and, in fact, they were told not to feel constrained to align their art with the business they were assigned to. Rather, Reynolds said they were instructed more broadly that the theme of their art should be “innovative, creative and to spark joy.”

Scott Walker, 34, from Norfolk, Virginia, is an artist who found a way to connect his art with the bridal boutique he was assigned to as well as the area on a broader level.

“Roses and flowers, in general, are strongly associated with weddings and celebrations, but the rose specifically is the flower of the state of New York,” Walker said. “And so I thought that that worked quite well and that there was a nice synergy there between the public art piece but also the nature of the industry that it was going inside of.”

The final mural, of gorgeous, blooming roses colored by contrasting black and red stripes, fulfills Walker’s goal of creating a beautiful yet “apolitical” visual that he hopes not only brightens a passerby’s stroll but also helps to boost his client’s business.

Meanwhile, in Binghamton, Damien Mitchell, 36, focused his mural on the area’s gorgeous nature, and has transformed the wall of a rental snowboard business with a spectacular naturalistic display. Mitchell is an Australian native, who now resides in Brooklyn, New York.

“I think the area around Binghamton is very beautiful,” Mitchell said. “I kinda just wanted to do something that reflects the nature of the area.”

Per the owner’s request for the piece to feature a character, a large portion of the mural is taken up by a white-bearded man gripping a ski board.

“I didn’t want to celebrate or ignore any particular part of the community, so I kinda kept it a bit ambiguous,” Mitchell said.

Decorating the figure’s ski board are stickers that also subtly pay tribute to the Binghamton area, like a green Bearcat sticker. But perhaps most eye-catching of all is the wintery, natural landscape that stretches across the entirety of the wall — white, snowy hills, surrounded by dark, leafy trees.

“More than anything else, I wanted the majority of the wall to be a love of nature,” Mitchell said.

When creating his Johnson City mural, 38-year-old J Muzacz of Austin, Texas turned to the area’s rich artistic history as his inspiration.

“Research on the area [and] discussions with locals in the know, helped to inform my design,” Muzacz said.

Muzacz’s mural depicts three of Binghamton’s iconic jazz legends — Slam Stewart, Al Hemme and Dena DeRose. His research also led him to discover the work of another Binghamton artist, abstract painter Renata Bernal. Her artistic style — and in particular her painting “Jazz” — inspired the color scheme and geometric shapes that take up the mural’s background.

Reynolds said she and the BCAC hope to continue to bring attention to public art, not just in Binghamton but the whole county.

“I know people are always like, ‘Ugh Binghamton what do you do here?’” Reynolds said. “But we’ve got so much art if you know where to find it.”