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Once in a Millennium Moon

Celebrating 20 years of Shreveport's mega mural

Once in a Millennium Moon

Photo by Casey Jones

In January of 1999, the new millennium was coming, and Shreveport Regional Arts Council (SRAC) dreamed of creating the largest mural in America. Nationally renowned NEA fellowship mural artist Meg Saligman fantasized about creating a 30,000 square-foot painting with community at the center of its story. It was a match made in heavenand twenty years, 50,000 brush strokes, 1,500 gallons of paint, 2,500 paint cloths, 2,600 community painters, 4,000 community collaborators, and 165 public events later, the “Once in a Millennium Moon” project is still celebrating a wish come true. 

It seemed like a fairy tale from the beginning. The Mid Atlantic Arts Foundation (MAAF) launched a national initiative, “Artists in Communities: America Creates for the Millennium, to pair a local community with a professional artist. Each of 56 communities was to be awarded a $52,000 grant, and of 200 eligible artists, 56 would match with residencies to commit to bringing their creations to life with community participation. SRAC’s wish to create a mega mural fit like a glass slipper with Saligman’s desire to paint a gigantic project, and by July, Meg and her team of six northwest Louisiana professional artists went to work in the heat of a midsummer night’s dream in Shreveport, Louisiana. 

For the next seven months, Saligman and her team worked to determine what should be painted on two sides of a 12-story building that would tell people in the next millennium who the people living in Shreveport were and what was important to them in the year 2000. They researched Shreveport’s history, photographed thousands of potential subjects to appear on the mural, and interviewed the residents of four communities surrounding downtown (Ledbetter Heights, Stoner Hill, Highland, and Allendale). They asked: “What is the most beautiful thing you’ve ever seen?” “What object would you want to give to the people of Shreveport in the year 3000?” 

Today, the enormous, colorful mural dramatically depicts the story of Shreveport—what is important to it, what has endured, what about it is beautiful, and what it wishes to leave for future generations. The east side of the enormous mural features 18 modelsall everyday Shreveporters. It is a vibrant depiction of the cycle of life, with an infant at its center being showered with water from containers carried by a multi-ethnic cross section of the city’s residents. Watching over the scene from the left is a Native American woman representing the original Louisianans. She is joined by other figures—one looking at family photographs, another searching the sky for that millennial moon. It is rich with meaningful icons including the city’s flower, the rose; flowing water referencing the city’s history as a port; and a skillet as a tribute to the region’s passion for food. The southern wall depicts a woman in a billowing gown holding a fiery orb of hope for the region’s future. 

Once in a Millennium Moon’ was one of my earliest large projects and one of the best professional experiences I have had—ever,” says nationally renowned NEA artist Meg Saligman. “SRAC and Shreveport Mayor Keith Hightower insisted that the community be a part of creating the mural. Almost 3,000 people came together for Louisiana-style Paint Days, which were more like a festival or party. My work on ‘Once in a Millennium Moon’ impacted my process, impacted the scale of my future work, and forever altered the way I interacted with communities.” 

It was not one Prince Charming or Fairy Godmother who brought “Once in a Millennium Moon” to life, but an entire community who fell under the spell of making this fairy tale come true. The City of Shreveport committed $150,000; Hollywood Hotel and Casino pledged $100,000; and Martin Specialty Coatings donated the paint, scaffolding, supplies, and use of a truck. Commitments from PAMOJA Art Society, the Louisiana Office of Tourism, the Downtown Development Authority, the Community Foundation of Shreveport-Bossier, and a grant from the Louisiana Division of the Arts brought SRAC to its goal. 

Kelly McDade, project director and now Bossier Parish Community College professor of fine arts says, “Meg’s vision, technique, and ability to build consensus was inspiring. It was a special moment when art brought so many in the community together—Black and white, young and old, wealthy and impoverished—to work toward a common goal.” 

Dr. Lisa Nicoletti was a production artist and is now a professor of art history and visual studies at Centenary College of Louisiana. “Today I look back and see how Meg’s paint-by-number technique gave ownership of the mural to more than the artists or SRAC, but to everyone waiting for a bus down the street, driving to work on I-20, or finding shelter at the Shreveport Bossier Rescue Mission. It became an icon of our diversity, revealing a rich cultural tapestry with an aspirational message: respect and honor our diversity, and remove barriers that prevent full participation in this city.” 

Over the last twenty years, ‘Once in a Millennium Moon’ has garnered national exposure. It is a great source of pride for the people of Shreveport, who feel strong sense of ownership for the mega mural,” says SRAC Executive Director Pam Atchison. Creative Director Josh Porter adds, “‘Once in a Millennium Moon’ was created by the community, the people depicted in the mural are community members, and the stories woven into the mural are from the community.” 

Meg Saligman hopes that the mural will be restored to its original vibrancy in order to help people in the new millennium embrace the joy and the generous, celebratory spirit of the diverse Shreveport community during the year 2000. Then “Once in a Millennium Moon” will truly be Shreveport’s happily ever after.