Douglas Hancock, project coordinator for the project and a Walldog from Alachua, stands in front of a mural he painted.(Heaven Wilson/WUFT News)
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Walldogs Mural Festival To Honor High Springs History In 2022

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The Walldogs are coming to High Springs in 2022, making it the first town in Florida to host the artists.

The group of local, national and international artists will paint murals depicting High Springs history on at least 12 buildings in the city during the four- to five-day annual Walldogs festival tentatively scheduled for March 2022.

Douglas Hancock, a project coordinator for the festival and owner of Sign Pro of North Florida Inc. in Alachua, has been a member of the Walldogs for seven years. He described the organization as a disorganized group of organized artists. The artists get together, usually once a year, in a town and paint 10 to 20 murals in four days, he said.

Usually 200 to 300 artists come to paint the murals, which focus on the history of the town and the surrounding community, Hancock said.

“Most of them are painted in old advertising art style such as a billboard or a poster art in the 1920s, kind of nostalgic,” he said. “But we use it as a way to keep the craft going, and anyone can show up, grab a paintbrush and become a Walldog.”

High Springs Mayor Linda Jones said although the Walldogs’ project will be beautiful, the city doesn’t have the nearly $120,000 the project will cost. So instead of using tax dollars to fund the murals, a committee of citizens in charge of the project created an organization, Heart of High Springs, to start raising money and accepting donations.

Hancock said Walldogs are not paid for their work. All they ask is the community provides meals and housing — whether it’s a home or a camping facility. Only the project coordinators and project leaders are paid, he said.

“I stayed in Shipshewana, Indiana, in a house with an Amish family and never had an experience with no electricity, gas lamps and riding on horses,” Hancock said. “We learned about each other’s culture, and I would have never had that chance to experience that if the city didn’t open up their homes.”

Tina Corbett, a High Springs artist, said at first she was skeptical about the murals because she wasn’t aware they utilized local artists; however, after learning more about the project, she decided it’s exciting that the Walldogs bring artists together from all over the world to one town to transform it into a beautiful mural display for people to tour.

“For a city like High Springs, historic murals will work,” Corbett said. “We can accomplish all kinds of things in 12 murals and then become a tourist attraction where people could have tours and learn about history.”

Julie Tucker, president of Heart of High Springs and owner of Julie’s Pins & Needles, said the residents of High Springs and surrounding communities created the Heart of High Springs organization to raise money for this project.

Heart of High Springs recently became a nonprofit organization, so it can start raising money for the project, Tucker said. One company already has offered to match donations up to $5,000.

The murals will benefit High Springs by drawing more tourism to the town, said Tucker, who has lived in High Springs for about 10 years. The town has a rich history many people don’t know about, she said.

The paint used in the murals lasts about 10 years, making maintenance relatively inexpensive, Tucker said. Local Walldogs can perform touch-ups; the organization will communicate with Hancock about the best way to handle maintenance.

High Springs will be the first Florida town to have a Walldogs project, Tucker said. The Heart of High Springs, along with project coordinator Hancock, will decide what murals are depicted and where they will go.

“It’s amazing when you pull people together, you learn similarities about each other instead of our differences,” Tucker said.

Hancock said the Walldogs plan to come to High Springs during the last two weeks of March 2020. Artists from New Zealand, Australia, England, Scotland, Germany, Canada and across the United States have expressed interest in the project, he said.

Hancock has already completed one mural in downtown High Springs. The painting on the North Florida Springs Environmental Center depicts a young woman snorkeling at one of Florida’s famous swimming holes, said Tessa Skiles, media director at the center.  Hancock did the mural by himself, finishing in June 2018.

Tessa Skiles, media director at North Florida Springs Environmental center from High Springs, stands in front of the North Florida Springs Environmental Center mural painted by Douglas Hancock, a project coordinator for the planned Walldogs festival. (Heaven Wilson/ WUFT News)

The mural attracts people to come to the center and learn more about the springs and the threats facing them, Skiles said.

“When they implement 12 more murals, it will bring an art culture to the city of High Springs, along with traffic,” she said. “People stop by and take a picture of the mural all the time.”

The March 2022 Walldog festival will begin on a Tuesday, with local volunteers setting up scaffolding and other supplies the artist need, Hancock said. The artists will arrive on Wednesday, and High Springs will host an evening kickoff dinner for all the artists, community leaders, volunteers and major
donors.

“We all get excited and pumped up for this because great talent is performed and the city shows us the best food, what they’re good at cooking,” Hancock said.

The mural painting takes place Thursday through Saturday, and most towns will provide daily entertainment, Hancock said.

On Friday, each project leader will create an art piece to be auctioned off; the money is split between the community to preserve and maintain the mural and the Walldogs Public Art nonprofit, which assists communities who want the Walldogs to come but aren’t able to form a nonprofit fund the festival, Hancock said.

On Sunday, the artists can either travel home or stay and explore the town.

“After these walls are up, High Springs will turn into a tourist culture,” Hancock said. “Essentially, people will get off Interstate 75, choosing to come to High Springs as opposed to other areas because they have beautiful wall art on display.”

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