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Street Artists Transforming Tallahassee

Tom Flanigan

Not all artwork hangs inside galleries. There’s now a small group of street artists working to turn many of Tallahassee’s outdoor surfaces into monumental works of art.

About a year and a half ago, Chiara Saldivar Gueyraud – originally from Venezuela – moved to Tallahassee from South Florida. Accompanying her, artistic and life partner Daniel O’Connor McCluskey. Ever since, various local walls have become a lot more eye-catching. That’s because Chiara and Daniel’s enterprise – “Street Art Tallahassee” – has been painting murals all over town, in places like the northern entrance to Midtown, the Miccosukee Land CoOp, Art Facility at Boys Town, the CSX overpass on South Monroe and a bunch more. And now they’ve picked up a new artistic client, the Centre of Tallahassee. That job is so big, Chiara said, that she and Daniel can’t do it alone.

“Daniel and I we want to introduce to Tallahassee different artists that we’ve worked with in the past and link them to local artists,” she insisted.

Each of these visiting artists will be assisted by two local artists who will essentially be apprentices and learn from the lead artist in order to perfect their aesthetic and technical skills. Now helping the McCluskeys – Chiara and Daniel got married this past March – with the Centre of Tallahassee project is Puerto Rico’s David Zayas. Besides his homeland, his work adorns prominent walls in places like Cuba and even New York City. His newest work is on the wall opposite the entrance to the School of Arts and Sciences at the Center.

“(Before) we worked together we knew each other for a long time virtually and we worked together on the design where it was going to be close to the school and between Kim Gabarrd, the manager of the Centre and us we did the design and then once it was approved I came here and we projected it onto the wall and the base of the mural and then the other faces,” Zayas explained.

Credit Tom Flanigan
Chiara Saldivar McCluskey stands before the Street Art Tallahassee mural along the Centre of Tallahassee's "Music Alley".

The mural across from the school has an upside-down school bus that has plants and a small town growing out of it. There’s a little boy – actually the grandson Centre Manager Gabbard – fishing for seaweed off the back of the bus. Nearby a little girl rides a tortoise that’s either flying or swimming. Whimsical surrealistic imagery is everywhere. And Artist Zayas said it has great personal meaning for him.

“This also reflects my life,” he said. “It’s the second time I’ve played with the image of the bus and it represents the theme of what we’re leaving as a society in these actual times.”

There is another giant mural in the alleyway just north of the school and a third just outside the entrance to Dreamland Bar-B-Que. Daniel McCluskey said many other Street Art Tallahassee projects all over town are on the drawing board.

Credit Tom Flanigan
Mural outside the entrance to Dreamland Bar-B-Q.

“As we’ve put up murals and have brought other artists together to see what their potential could be, it’s transformed the way I look at the city myself,” he said. “Now when I drive by certain areas, I can say, ‘Who’s going to be there next?’”

And Chiara Saldivar McCluskey now sees the artistic transformation of Florida’s Capital City as a life’s work.

“When I die, Tallahassee’s going to be the best place for art. I’m going to do my best!” she laughed.

In the meantime, local folks shouldn’t be surprised if a small team of artists suddenly appears to create a swirling, enchanting riot of color and fantastic images on a nearby wall.

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Tom Flanigan has been with WFSU News since 2006, focusing on covering local personalities, issues, and organizations. He began his broadcast career more than 30 years before that and covered news for several radio stations in Florida, Texas, and his home state of Maryland.

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