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Public Art with Heart

Oklahoma Mural Syndicate gathers working artists to paint murals through Oklahoma City, creating dozens of murals and helping USA Today name OKC the No. 1 place for street art two years in a row. 

In Oklahoma City’s Plaza District, 36 murals adorn the exterior walls of local businesses. Eight years ago, the district had one mural.

In fact, “USA Today” topped their 2022 10 Best in Street Art list with Oklahoma City, an honor also bestowed on the city in 2021. Over the last few years, Oklahoma City has gained national attention as a wonderful place to live for artists and creatives and ranked in the top 10 for public and street art on numerous lists.

“Every community needs public art and art expression,” said Kris Kanaly, speaking about the Oklahoma Mural Syndicate, an increasingly well-known and ever-expanding nonprofit organization that began to fund the murals in Plaza District and now supports public art in six different communities in Oklahoma. “Syndicate sounds like we might be the mafia, but we’re just a group of artists trying to put color in the neighborhood.”

Familiar with the Plaza District from 2010, Kanaly and friends noticed when Mason Realty began buying up properties in the area.

“We approached him in 2014 about the Alley Project,” he said. “We walked through the area frequently and saw its potential. It was already collecting graffiti. We told him that our art would be better and we would pick up our trash.”

After contacting the property owner and working with the city to obtain the necessary permits, Kanaly – who owns Kanaly Designs – and friends began a weekly rotating mural project so successful that within months, Mayor Mick Cornett came out for a selfie.

“Quite an endorsement,” Kanaly said with a laugh.

Since 2015, Plaza Walls has become a popular tourist attraction in Oklahoma City.

“Public art, street art, helps build pride in your community,” he said. “Eight years ago, there was one mural in the Plaza District. Now there are 36. It’s become one of the most popular districts in our state. The art becomes an economic feedback loop: go see the murals, get coffee, visit the shops, enjoy dinner. It benefits everyone.”

In 2016, the artists of Plaza Walls created a non-profit organization to fund and advocate for public art.

“It became the Oklahoma Murals Syndicate,” Kanaly said. “We decided to take on the state. 

We quickly had other communities contacting us, asking for a Plaza Walls project in their community or district. I love that we inspired those communities to do it themselves, and we are here for them when they have questions. With six different mural projects across Oklahoma annually, we’re at the limit for now with what we can handle. We currently have seven members on our board, and we would love to grow to 12 members. We believe every community needs public art and expression.”

Kanaly said the syndicate gets new artists through a mix of application and curation. During the last year, more than 280 artists applied from all over the world to put art on Oklahoma walls during the annual Plaza Walls Fest. Donations from a wide number of companies provide 30 artists with a travel and mural stipend. Currently, OMS does not have the funding to fly in international artists but Kanaly is encouraged by the interest.

“If you live here, you know that there is a stigma about Oklahoma,” he said. “To have so many artists seeking to come here is hopefully chiseling away that stigma.”

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