When graphic designer Melissa Franklin lived in Portland, Oregon, she rode her bike regularly. She began to paint designs on clothing thrifted from second-hand stores.
Every month she’d sell her work during a neighborhood art fair, continually entertained by Portland’s quirky inhabitants which included watching people play in makeshift mud pits and pie-joust one another from the top of double-decker bikes.
Since moving to Tallahassee, Franklin has freelanced in graphic design for nonprofits and taken every opportunity to encourage and support the arts.
She curated monthly art shows at the Fermentation Lounge and served as the creative director for Grasslands Brewing Company.
Biking routes incorporate art
Now, as communications coordinator for the Apalachee Regional Planning Council (ARPC) she’s integrating the arts into Mobility Week with “Cycle the Arts.” ARPC has created specially designed local biking routes that take an hour at a comfortable pace for beginners and families to complete.
They’ve worked with COCA to identify public art located along those bike routes, relying on COCA’s Outdoor Public Art Directory and map, a database which highlights Tallahassee’s over 300 outdoor works of art, including local sculptures, murals, windows, monuments, and memorials.
“Our community is full of organizations trying to better the whole and I’ve always been a big believer that the more that you collaborate, the more you can show how everything connects,” says Franklin. “Tallahassee is abundant in public art and COCA has done such an amazing job cataloging all of it, so we thought it would be the perfect opportunity to work together on this initiative.”
Franklin has always felt inclined to create. She earned her degree in studio arts with a concentration in graphic design from Florida Atlantic University. Franklin appreciated receiving an extensive education in art history as well as the opportunity to experiment in all different medias before choosing to focus on graphic design.
At the time, she dreamed of creating concert posters and CD covers. Her first job out of college was with the south Florida tabloids like “Weekly World News” and “The National Enquirer.” She ended up designing for “Sun Weekly,” which features Nostradamus prophecies.
“There’s a ‘Weekly World News’ out there with me in my pajamas on the cover being abducted by aliens while I’m sleeping,” laughs Franklin. “It was a great opportunity that was varied and fascinating. From there, I really was hoping to find something where I was helping people.”
Designing posters and websites
Franklin was approached by the ARPC two years ago prior to their first “850 Industrial Hemp Summit.” She helped design the website, logo and signage and was hired on afterwards full-time.
In her role, Franklin designs for the council’s economic development, transportation, housing, GIS, environmental and resiliency planning programs. The nine counties under ARPC’s umbrella pay dues that are used to assist with grants, outreach and project implementation.
The “FRANKLIN-98” project became her first focus as communications coordinator. The project focuses on the living shoreline between East Point and Carrabelle to help reduce land erosion on Highway 98. The project is testing out artificial reefs to attract oysters and add to the ecosystem and marsh grasses.
“Within that project so much art and design is being used,” explains Franklin. “In some of the materials we’re testing, a woman in the northeast used these same materials to create sculptures along the shoreline and attract all these oyster shells hatching.”
Researching the problem
Franklin’s creative process varies based on the design project, but she always begins with researching the problem that needs to be solved or the message that needs communicating. Once she identifies and better understands a project’s intended audience, she sits with a blank pad of paper, pencil, and thesaurus.
Then, Franklin starts paging through her thesaurus and writing down word associations. Once she has a couple of ideas, she’ll look through old art books for images. Franklin will then create and offer three concepts to get input from her team before moving forward with feedback.
“For the living shoreline project, I sat and wrote down any and every word that came to mind when I think of grass, erosion, resiliency,” says Franklin. “I keep going from there and whittling away to the words that not only speak directly to the message, but then can be conveyed visually.”
Her most impactful projects have been working on the “850 Industrial Hemp Summit” which would harness the plant’s power to feed, house, clothe and heal. Additionally, she’s enjoyed designing for the “Revive Revolving Loan Fund” which provides support for minority and women-owned businesses in Leon County.
With the “Cycle The Arts” program, Franklin hopes the community will get excited about the art and resources that are only a few pedal pumps away. Her favorite murals include the new “Project Daring” mural on Calhoun St. and the many murals sprinkled throughout Railroad Square.
“Public art is people power and encouraging the community to tour public art by bicycle offers a new perspective on not only the accessibility of public art, but also the equity of it,” says Franklin. “Not only is it created by each of us, it’s appreciated by each of us, and it’s owned by all of us.”
If you go
What: Cycle The Arts
When: Ride now through Nov. 30 to be part of the LoveToRide Florida Challenge
Where: Mural map available on website
Contact: For more information, visit https://www.arpc.org/ride-on
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This article originally appeared on Tallahassee Democrat: Pedal power points toward tour of Tallahassee's public art