New mural puts spotlight on bats and Carlsbad
Taylor Swift helped put the spotlight on Kelsey Montague’s winged murals in 2019 when the mega pop star commissioned the artist to create one in Nashville to coincide with the release of her song ME!
The muralist recently paid it forward by helping the City of Carlsbad stand out with her newly completed mural, “Carlsbad’s Bat Wings.”
The mural, made possible through a partnership between the Carlsbad Arts Council and Carlsbad Caverns National Park and with funding from Chevron, added an alluring, wall-sized example of pop culture to 220 S. Canal Street (next to Domino’s Pizza). More importantly, the colorful interpretation of bat wings depicted in the mural honors the famous inhabitants of Carlsbad Caverns, which is celebrating its centennial as a national park this year.
As the mural draws more visitors to Carlsbad, including social media influencers who won’t resist snapping a photo in front of it, it will also bring more positive awareness about bats, according to Dianne Joop, president of the Carlsbad Arts Council. Bats are feared by many, but they are important pollinators and control insect populations.
“Bat numbers are on the decline, and we thought it would be a really good thing to bring something out about bats that brings positive awareness.”
“Bat numbers are on the decline, and we thought it would be a really good thing to bring something out about bats that brings positive awareness,” Joop said.
The bat wing mural project began in 2019, the same year Swift commissioned Montague to do the Nashville mural. Swift loved the first winged mural Montague had done in New York City about five years earlier. Before creating that NYC mural, Montague said she’d been drawing in and out of coffee shops. Then one day she was randomly invited to draw on a rotating art wall. The resulting mural went viral six days later, officially launching an interactive street art career that, to date, includes more than 250 murals worldwide. On the muralist’s website, a world map can help you find them.
Montague’s sister, Courtney Montague, has supported her sister from the very start on the business side. It’s a good thing Montague is visible and accessible on the Internet.
“It really started with a Google search,” Joop said.
Back in 2019, Joop searched Google for a bat wing artist, and “not much came up,” she said. But then she searched “wing artist,” and Montague’s works popped up. She said she loved how Montague’s murals encourage people to interact with them, often by snapping photos in front of them to represent the wings that lift them up.
“I instantly fell in love with the style, all of the whimsy,” Joop said. “And I learned more about Kelsey, how she developed this interactive mural style.”
Joop reached out and said she cried and did a happy dance when the Montague sisters agreed to take on the Carlsbad mural project.
“I got star struck,” she said, “It’s always impressive to meet someone with such a creative mind.”
Montague called Joop “such a cool lady” and also commended all those she worked with on the Arts Council and in Carlsbad in general. She said she was excited to take on the project, but then the pandemic hit and “everything blew up.” Thankfully, the mural project would eventually get its wings back. To see her work on the project, visit her Instagram post here.
“I’d never drawn bat wings before, they are amazing creatures,” Montague said. “They’re so underestimated and mistreated.”
Montague said she loved working with, and alongside, the people of Carlsbad in her first ever piece in New Mexico. She intends to do a mural in every state – she’s got roughly 10 states left.
“Carlsbad is so unique, and so is New Mexico in general,” Montague said. “Everyone is so nice. The landscape is stunning, it feels like you are on a movie set all the time.”
In the bat mural, Montague focused on using colors common to New Mexico, and studied the “beautiful bone structure” comprising bats. The resulting mural will serve to draw visitors to Carlsbad, and, like wings, will spread positive messages about the beauty and importance of bats. That’s why art is so powerful, says Joop.
Joop expressed gratitude to Beverly Allen, a public and government affairs advisor for Chevron, and the company, for supporting the mural project. It was fitting, given Chevron’s investment in local environmental issues, she said.
“I have worked with Beverly on other projects; they are a big supporter of the environment, and I appreciated that,” Joop said.
Allen said Chevron is proud to support a project that raises awareness about an important issue.
“This mural serves as a powerful promotion for Carlsbad Caverns’ famous bats, who draw so many visitors from around the world to our region and are critical for our environment,” Allen said. “Now all of those visitors will take a piece of the mural with them and post it all around the globe: a piece of Carlsbad.”
At the official ribbon-cutting ceremony for the mural on Monday, Nov. 6, Joop went on camera to encourage the public to take a photo of the mural and to post it all around the world using the hashtags, #explorecarlsbadnm, #WhatLiftsYou and #KelseyMontagueArt. Joop also advised there are Easter eggs to be found within the art, and encouraged visitors to look for them.
“We might have a little surprise for the first person in Carlsbad who finds all the little Easter eggs,” she said. “Come enjoy the mural.”
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