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McKEES ROCKS | Murals featuring black-eyed susans, a symbol of social justice, coming soon

Brittany Charles, below, and MarySue Flick, below, begin work on a new mural located at Island and Chartiers avenues in McKees Rocks.

By Elizabeth Perry

McKees Rocks will be getting more colorful over the next few months with two new murals local artist MarySue Flick is helping to bring to life.

Flick is creating a mural beneath the train trestle at Chartiers and Island avenues and is also helping to design a mural for Focus on Renewal which will be painted on the nonprofit group’s headquarters further down Chartiers.

Both designs will include the black-eyed susan, a flower that is said to symbolize social justice.

“The flower is indigenous to this area and many of us have them in front of our houses, etc. I am trying to brand our area using these flowers,” Flick said via email. “Our neighborhood has definitely been beaten up through the years by various entities, people, publications, etc., often unfairly, so black-eyed susan flower's common name is very representative of this, too.”

On Aug. 22, the McKees Rocks board agreed to allow Focus on Renewal to execute a mural on its building as part of fulfilling a requirement by the Choice Neighborhoods Planning Grant. The $30 million Choice Neighborhoods Grant would pave the way to replacing the Hays Manor Housing Development with 240 units of mixed-income housing.

Demolition of the existing complex is under consideration by HUD.

Many in the area, including Deputy Executive Director at ACHA Beverly Moore have said the grant is the best chance the area has at revitalization, while other residents, like MaryBeth Taylor have staged protests to keep subsidized housing from being rebuilt in McKees Rocks.

The Focus on Renewal mural will be designed by Flick and McKees Rocks artist Willie Dawson. Dawson has said he wants the Focus on Renewal mural to be reflective of the community.

Murals in McKees Rocks have had a rocky road and were briefly banned.

As previously reported, in 2004, an anti-smoking mural supported by FOR kicked off a controversial firestorm when the bright images depicting healthy children rejecting smoking caused the McDermott Funeral Home to plant bushes as a barrier blocking the piece because they felt it was too garish.

Another mural for a local nail salon was torpedoed soon after because then-mayor Jack Muhr took offense to its content. Murals were considered signs, and limited to 150 square feet. The issue was taken to court.

The current ordinance was amended in 2022 and currently prohibits murals larger than 28 square meters–about the size of a garage–except as approved by the board for “good cause.”

The trestle mural has been in the works for more than a year and now paint is being laid down. Mayor David Flick, who is married to MarySue, started whitewashing the space. He said passersby have given them compliments and said just the fresh paint looked very nice.

Photographer and McKees Rocks Women’s Alliance member Ishara Henry was helping to paint the black-eyed susan design on the wall Aug. 23, along with fellow volunteer Brittany Charles.

Henry volunteered to help because of her friendship with Flick and because she enjoys painting.

Charles offered up her brush because she saw the call for painters on Facebook. Flick is hoping to complete the project within the next few weeks.

“We’re doing this because we want to make our neighborhood as beautiful as the people who live in it. We deserve something better than just a greasy wall and litter,” Mayor Flick said.


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