7-story Muhammad Ali Mural coming to Chestnut Street Family YMCA

Planning has been underway for weeks, but the installation is right on time as the city suffers loss and pain like never before.
Published: Apr. 21, 2023 at 6:15 PM EDT
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LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WAVE) - It is a project that comes at a critical moment for Louisville. There’s a colossal mural of the city’s Greatest champion, coming to West Louisville. 

Planning has been underway for weeks, but the installation is right on time as the city suffers loss and pain like never before. The creators of the piece hope it will give the community a moment to focus, heal and overcome.

Shepard Fairey is leading the project. Fairey is an internationally recognized American contemporary artist best known for his iconic 2008 “Hope” poster depicting then U.S. presidential candidate Barack Obama is bringing his talents to WAVE Country.

“I’m excited to get started,” proclaimed Fairey. “I have a small crew coming with me. We work pretty quickly so we’re thinking we can finish in four days.”

Fairey knows the power of art. His “We the People Series” for the 2017 Women’s Marchs went viral around the globe.

After looking at Louisville’s gun violence statistics and hearing the news of the most recent mass shootings Fairy hopes his 7-story mural of Muhammad Ali on the side of the Chestnut Street Family YMCA will also bring to this community a sense of strength as well.

”I hope it creates a chain reaction and people see something like this and say, ‘I have felt this powerless in the face of gun violence, there’s no legislative movement on it but how can I use my voice, my opinion so that people will listen,’” shared Fairey.

Trauma survivor, Louisville native and artist Eddie Donaldson has some pretty big expectations and aspirations of what this 7-story mural of the Champ can and will do.

”We hope that in the light of last week’s events that people look at this mural as a beacon of hope and inspiration that there are better times to come,” explained Donaldson. “The city needs a big hug right now and we hope that’s what we’re doing with this mural of Muhammad Ali right here in the Russel Community.”

Russell is a community filled with history and pride. The area was once known as Louisville’s Harlen because of the number of strong African American businesses in the neighborhood.

Freddie Brown, Vice President of Diversity, Inclusion, Global Perspective & District Executive Director of the Chestnut Street Family YMCA shared the history and pride of the area with the youth that participate in the YMCA programs.

“This block really is a historic block with the Chestnut Street Family YMCA, The Western library, Quinn Chapel,” Brown said There’s a lot of connections to the civil rights movement all right here on this block.”

Having a mural of the man Muhammad Ali who once played and trained in the streets that surround the Chestnut Street Family YMCA as Cassius Marcellus Clay is a perfect motivator for youth that spend hours there daily.

“I’m trying to capture in his expression that idea of him looking into the distance with ideas about how he can impact the world,” explained Fairey.

Fairey also added other affirmations and bits of symbolism to the mural.

”The lotus Flower,” Fairey shared. “The beautiful flower that grows from the mud is a statement, a symbol of resilience. There’s his philosophical statements about giving. There’s a phrase from the local young Black Achievers’ group who said that everyone helps everyone.”

In the words of Muhammad Ali, “What you are thinking about, you are becoming.”

”I’m really looking forward to seeing these kids here playing daily out in front of this mural,” stressed Donaldson. “Hopefully, they find some inspiration from that anything they want to do they can. Just like Ali did.”

While Fairey is in town, his work will form the centerpiece of a soon to be announced exhibit at Common Art Gallery, part of the PORTAL arts venue in Louisville’s Portland neighborhood along a group of artists for trauma. The mural installation begins tomorrow with a public dedication on April 26th.

Schedule of Events:

April 22nd: Work begins on Ali mural.

April 25th: Public workshop at Louisville Visual Art (1538 Lytle St.), 6-8pm

April 26th: Outside Influence opens at PORTAL (1512 Portland Avenue), personal

appearance (and DJ set) by Shephard Fairey, 6pm

May 3rd: Ride the Thunder event at PORTAL.

May 7th: Last day of Outside Influence