Planning a new mural

The goal is to create a mural that will remain in good condition for its expected lifetime. To reduce the rate and extent of deterioration, preventive strategies and maintenance must be incorporated into the project from the planning stage. It is very important to plan and budget for maintenance and conservation from the inception of a mural project.

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Careful planning will help to ensure that a new mural remains in good condition and is a source of community pride and respect for years to come.

Murals cannot be considered solely from a business, economic, or self-serving viewpoint. They exist in a community and must be meaningful to the community. Planning committees that keep the community in mind and encourage their collaboration will gain benefits such as goodwill, community awareness, support, and input. For more information, visit Mural Production: A Resource Handbook (Mural Routes Inc. ).

To ensure maximum longevity for the new mural, it is essential to choose an appropriate site and wall or other primary support, prepare the support properly, and use only durable materials. Simple procedures for ongoing maintenance (including periodic inspection, cleaning, and repair) should also be planned and funded from the inception of the project. Finally, consideration must be given to the mural's treatment if damage occurs, and to its relocation if the site becomes unsuitable.

Mural of ship on side of building.
Image 1: Side Launch by John Hood and Alexandra Hood, , Town of Collingwood mural, Collingwood, Ontario; (artists' acrylic paint on commercial signboard, styrofoam and concrete wall)

Partner with experts

The planning committee should, by its composition or outreach, have access to the following specialists and professionals in the community:

  • an architect — to advise on the suitability of the wall and any modifications required for the site and to provide access to his/her network of other professionals as needed
  • building and landscape architects, engineers, paint manufacturers, and conservators — to advise on factors that will affect the longevity of the mural: its materials, construction, and installation; issues relating to the site (location, directional orientation, placement, and susceptibility to vandalism); accidental damage and deterioration by the natural environment; and ease and cost of maintenance
  • other mural communities — to provide advice based on their experience, including what has worked and what hasn't
  • the artist, patron, and conservator — to assess the permanence, longevity, and maintenance of the proposed site, materials, design, and construction
  • community members — to provide insights into any risks/benefits associated with the site, and to help ensure the community's goodwill, awareness, input, and support

Select a suitable site

Site selection has a major influence on the longevity of a mural. A poorly chosen site can lead to early deterioration due to physical damage, water, pollutants, etc. The location of the site can also increase or decrease the likelihood of vandalism such as graffiti.

Factors to consider when choosing a site:

  • How is the site used and what activities occur in the vicinity? For example, is the site used for sports such as ball hockey games?
  • What are the environmental conditions? Is the site exposed to high winds, abrasives, pollutants, extreme dirt, constant sun, constant shade, etc.?
  • Is the site prone to vandalism?
  • What municipal maintenance activities are carried out in the area (e.g. snowplowing, water sprinklers, etc.)?
  • Is the site subject to the spray of water, salt, or gravel from an adjacent road?
  • Could the mural be situated on the site to reduce damage? For example, a high location could reduce vandalism and a northern (or western) exposure could reduce the rate of light damage.
  • Could the site be modified to prevent damage to the mural? For example, could landscaping, parking barriers, or other barriers be added to guide vehicle or pedestrian traffic flow and minimize contact with the mural?

Select a durable support, installation method, and media

The primary support, which can be either a wall or a separate support attached to an existing wall or free-standing armature, is the predominant factor in the stability and longevity of a mural.

The proposed wall should be assessed by an architect and, if needed, by his/her network of professionals such as masonry or roofing specialists, structural engineers, etc. to ensure that it is suitable for the mural and does not have a moisture problem.

Heritage buildings should never be considered because a mural could alter or damage the heritage "fabric" of the building.

The materials and installation methods should be durable in the exterior/public environment. For example, only pigments of high light stability should be used and any metal components, including screws, should be non-rusting. Surface coatings can be considered to help protect the paint from dirt, deterioration of the medium, and, to some extent, graffiti (information on durable materials is included in the section Creating a new mural).

Mural of person sitting at a dining table.
Image 2: Detail of Almonds and Wine by Cristina Delago, ; City of Toronto, Ontario; Photograph by Tomasz Majcherczyk, .
A durable mosaic medium is a good alternative choice for an exterior mural.

Develop a maintenance plan and conservation policy

To ensure the new mural lasts as long as possible, proper maintenance should begin immediately after installation. It is important to plan and budget for maintenance and conservation from the inception of a mural project.

The maintenance plan and conservation policy should incorporate:

  • a schedule of regular inspection;
  • an outline of maintenance activities for mural and site(e.g. cleaning and minor repair);
  • who to consult when treatment is required; and
  • documentation of condition, maintenance, and treatment work.

In addition, the roles and responsibilities of all those involved in the ongoing care of the mural and its site should be clearly defined. Look to Caring for an existing mural for more information on the preservation of murals.

Establish a contractual agreement

Before work begins, the patrons of the mural should obtain a contractual agreement regarding the rights and responsibilities of the wall owner, the commissioning agency or patron (owner of the mural), and the artist. Factors to consider include:

  • Who will maintain the site?
  • Who will maintain the wall? (It is usually the wall owner for a specified period of time.)
  • What is the expected lifetime of the mural?
  • Who will maintain the mural? (It is usually the commissioning agency.)
  • What happens if the wall is to be altered or demolished, or if the mural requires relocation?
  • What are the legal issues regarding copyright and moral rights (see Mural Production: A Resource Handbook)?
  • How will the ongoing care of the mural be managed and funded, and how will decisions regarding conservation treatment or restoration be made?
  • What happens if there are changes to the site?
  • What happens if the mural needs to be deaccessioned?

Create signage and programs to educate the community

Plan signage and programs to educate people, create public "ownership", and instill community pride in the mural. Recommendations in Mural Production: A Resource Handbook include:

  • document the mural production and create an archive from which to obtain photos and information for promotional opportunities, travel writers, etc.;
  • cluster murals in an area so a walking tour can be created;
  • create brochures, a website, an audio tour, and possibly a book; and
  • develop partnerships with other organizations, e.g. horticultural groups, theatre programs, youth groups, tourism departments, etc.

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