NEW ALBANY — A new mural is bringing a message of inclusivity and inspiration to the Floyd County Library while promoting the library’s services.
Louisville artist Jaylin Stewart is painting a mural on the side of the library annex building at the main branch in downtown New Albany. She started the mural last Thursday, and she expects it will be finished within two weeks.
The hand-painted mural features panels depicting a diverse set of people engaged in reading, art, science, music and technology.
“I’m really trying to show different windows and show different stories of the services the library provides and showing different faces of all ethnicities and different ages — creating images that people can really insert themselves into, and say that’s me, hey that looks like me or hey, I can be that or I can do that,” Stewart said.
Stewart, 25, is a self-taught artist, educator and activist from West Louisville. She is known for her portraits of people lost to gun violence, and she received national attention recently for her portrait of Breonna Taylor, which was digitally projected onto Louisville’s Metro Hall this summer.
“I’ve been an artist since I was a child, but it was limited access in my neighborhood, so it really wasn’t cultivated the way it could have been,” she said. “I have a family full of artists, though, which is a beautiful thing, so I was surrounded by art. In high school, I really got back into it, but when my cousin was murdered in 2017, I honored him with a portrait, and I’ve been on a roll ever since then.”
Floyd County Library Director Melissa Merida said that in light of recent movements for racial equality, the library wanted to emphasize the library’s mission of being a welcoming place for all people, so the staff reached out to Stewart to commission the mural.
“So we kind of thought, what can we do to promote from the outside that the library is an engaging place for people of all races and viewpoints?” she said. “We want to be the place where people come and discuss their differences and are able to research ideas that may be new to them or thoughts that they might question — that we’re here for those kind of discussions and that it’s a safe place.”
One of the panels depicts a Black father reading a book to his child. Stewart hopes the positive images will help break down stereotypes.
“It’s always been the stereotypical thing for Black people, if you want to hide something from a Black person, put it in a book — and that’s not true,” she said. “We are reading, we are leading our children to do brave and bright things, and I thought it was important for me to put this image up, especially at a library and a downtown where it will get a lot of traffic right before you get on the highway.”
Merida said the mural is also about representing the variety of services offered at the various library branches, whether it is the art programming at the Carnegie Center for Art & History or the computer services at the Galena Digital Branch.
Stewart wants her mural to offer an inspirational message that makes people feel welcome and shows how the library supports the community.
“The message I plan to send is I just really want to lighten the spirit of people, open up the eyes, open up the arms for people to be able to just see things differently — be open to every type of person that there is, not just a white person or an African American person,” she said.