Over the past year or so, mural art around the city of Durant created by a host of local artists has been spreading like wildfire.


Several buildings in the downtown area have photogenic artist renderings on the outside walls.


That led to an idea from local business owner Curt Walker, from the Develop Durant organization, to propose a mural competition and combine with Durant Main Street to come up with the Magnolia Mile Art Alley.


The first-ever event will take place Friday evening as part of June’s First Friday festivities in the downtown area, with a public judging that will pay $1,000 to the winner.


“We’ve had some murals done in the past but this is the first competition we’ve had,” said Main Street Executive Director Stephanie Gardner. “There has been a lot of interest and we are really excited about it.


“We plan to leave the mural panels up for a year and we have talked to Curt about making it an annual event. Hopefully it can continue going year after year with a lot of different murals by our talented local artists.”


The Art Alley event will take place from 5-8 p.m. in the alley between Craft Pies and the old historic hotel off Main just west of Third Street. Both the Craft Pies and hotel buildings are owned by Walker.


Durant’s Main Street organization will have a table set up with ballots that list each of the 17 murals that will be on display for people to vote for their favorite.


The winner will be announced later that evening on social media as well as at the live concert by Hobbs Music from Stillwater at Pocket Park, located just off of Second near the Durant Main Street office.


Determining the 17 individuals who would be included in the first-ever mural competition was challenging, according to Gardner.


Artists had to submit an application along with a sketch of the proposed painting that would go on the 5-by-10-foot panels instead of the historic brick on the side of the building.


“Most of the 17 artists we narrowed it down to are within a 30-mile radius of Durant,” Gardner commented. “We had between 40 and 50 applicants and had some submissions from as far as away as Tulsa and Dallas. Those also range from high school age all the way up to 80 years old, so obviously the subject content widely varied. We selected a lot of different variety of murals and different styles. I think it’s going to be kind of cool to see the different styles.


“Originally we wanted to narrow it down to 12 for the displays, but had so many good ones. We just couldn’t narrow it down that far. When the finalists were announced in early March, they each were able to come in and pick up one of the panels that we supplied. They all had about a month or so to work on them and have them turned in by May 1 with a sealed clear coat.”


Of the 17 artists selected to compete, 12 of those are adults while five are student artists.


There are also plans in the works for an additional mural to be added at a later time in remembrance of the four Durant High School students who were killed in a tragic automobile accident over Memorial Day weekend.


Local artist Cory Cooper will be doing that mural, and Gardner said it will be publicly announced when it will go up because of the expected immense interest.


“I think this Art Alley will be something that people will really enjoy,” she added. “We are trying to spruce up the alley in other ways as well to make it very more appealing.


“Searcy, Arkansas, which we lost out to in the `Small Business Revolution’ (competition series), has a similar thing in their town that has really blossomed into one of their biggest downtown draws and they have new murals almost monthly. We have stayed in touch with them and gotten some really good ideas.


“Depending on the funding - because panels are not cheap - and our additional artist database, I think this is something we might even been able to change out seasonally in the near future.”