WILKES-BARRE — Gwen Harleman knows people visit the Luzerne County Courthouse for many different reasons — and that not all of those reasons are good.
So, when she received an invite to bring artists from Verve Vertu Art Studio in Dallas to paint a mural on the blank white walls of the pedestrian tunnel that runs under North Street to the courthouse, she seized the opportunity.
“We want to put some good energy into the environment,” said Harleman, art director at Verve.
Harleman, her art assistant Kristen Sampson and art student April Cross started the summer project on June 16.
The project is expected to last throughout the summer, wrapping up in August.
The women sketched out a pre-planned mural that involves several mandalas to promote feelings of community, inspirational quotes such as Mother Teresa’s “If we have no peace, it is because we have forgotten that we belong to each other.”
Plus, a dose of humor with a big, winking emoji.
“We are not trying to promote any one belief,” she said.
Sampson and Cross were drawing a mandala filled with the outlines of their hands.
“April and I came up with the idea of hands,” Sampson said, noting the image promotes unity.
“We want to put a quote in the middle,” she added.
The trio’s activities did catch the attention of many tunnel users Friday.
“One person thought it was graffiti,” Sampson said. “Another thought we were using the town’s money to do this, which we are not.”
Sampson said once people learn about the tunnel’s facelift, they are supportive.
Clara Crawford was passing through the tunnel heading to the courthouse and noticed the activities of the artists.
“I come through here about once a month,” Crawford said. “I think this is a great idea.”
“We are doing it as a labor of love,” Harleman said.
Harleman said Luzerne County Judge Jennifer Rogers approached her with the idea to spruce up the drab public space.
After Verve Vertu Art Studio received permission from the courthouse, the artists quickly got to work.
Verve Vertu is teaming up with children from the McGlynn Center in Wilkes-Barre to paint the tunnel, Harleman said. The children will be in the tunnel for two hours once a week starting in July, she said.
Nearly 30 artists from Verve Vertu will also help paint the pedestrian tunnel in alternating shifts, in an effort to limit tunnel congestion.
When the mural is complete, Harleman will use clear marine paint to seal and protect the artwork from the elements.