Columbia’s Painted Spaces

Lady Vista Mural

Murals prove good for business, the city and the community

By Haley Kellner

With each mural she creates, artist Ija Charles starts painting at 3 AM. The dark, quiet morning eases her into a meditative state as she uses her art to turn a business owner’s meaningful backstory into part of the customer experience.

“I only work with people who have stories because I feel like the way I’m inspired is if you inspire me with your story,” says Charles, whose her work now spans the Southeast. “That’s my favorite part, putting people’s lives and their heart into the painting, so it’s more than just a pretty painting.”

Given those guidelines, Brittany Koester and the soon-to-be Azalea Coffee Bar were perfect candidates. Inspired by Koester’s mother, the shop will aim to support women in every business aspect, including coffee and tea sourced solely from women-run farms. And while you might not glean the full backstory from a visit, looking toward Koester’s mother, smiling warmly from the mural Charles painted, you’ll know in this shop, women are honored.

“I don’t know why businesses wouldn’t put a mural somewhere on their space if they can,” Koester says, having already garnered media attention from Charles’ creation. Come opening day, she expects the mural will only continue to bring people inside, adding to the shop’s feminine ambiance and making for a completely unique experience.

“It’s ours,” Koester says. “There’s not another business that is ever going to have this piece.” Or another city, given that Columbia, too, benefits from each local art piece. Organizations like the Congaree Vista Guild realize this, funding art for the community itself, as they did in commissioning artist Cait Maloney to paint the Gervais Street mural, “Lady Vista.”

What a mural brings to a space

Maloney created “Lady Vista” with the simple hope of brightening someone’s day. She believes with every new mural, a city becomes “a little bit more welcoming” and gains “a little bit of a personality.”

Businesses or organizations wanting to add to that personality should start by finding an artist whose style you love. Reach out with your story, and see if they have room on their schedule. Share any colors or themes specific to your business. Await the jaw dropping design.

The actual painting can take a couple days or a couple weeks. But the wait is worth it, as is the price of paying artists fairly. Some muralists charge by their time; others like Charles charge by square foot, with half put down initially to cover upfront costs.

Whether you’re a business owner, organization, artist, or local, it seems to be in everyone’s best interest that Columbia’s mural scene continues to grow. With every new painting, a local business gets a boost and a local artist gets supported. Visitors have a new point of interest, and residents have a new point of pride. The city thrives in its individualism by adding a new to otherwise empty walls.

See the artwork of Ija Charles (@ija_monet) and Cait Maloney (@caitmacncheese) on Instagram. Azalea Coffee Bar is soon to open on Devine Street.

Photograph courtesy of Cait Maloney Creative