WAYNE, Neb. (AP) — When Wayne city leaders launched a public art initiative a year ago, they envisioned a first-year project that would, in Mayor Cale Giese’s words, make a big splash.

The visual impact a recently completed building mural is making on the city’s Main Street just might lead to a tidal wave of interest in finding other ways to bring art to the city, making it more attractive to visitors, and, Giese hopes, lead to new residents and businesses.

“It’s all about creating a place as a community,” said Giese, a 32-year-old Wayne native who said he was inspired to increase the city’s public art presence after attending a presentation about how smaller cities can duplicate the atmosphere in big-city neighborhoods and become more interesting places to live.

“The Illuminated City,” a mural that covers the entire north side of the Majestic Theatre, adds interest, all right. Created and painted by Lawrence, Kansas, artist Dave Loewenstein, the mural ties in cultural, historical and movie images in which city landmarks such as the courthouse, water tower and nearby wind turbines are seen in silhouette against shades of blue and purple in the evening sky while fireflies flash and stars twinkle.

Finished in September, the mural has potential to become a Wayne landmark, said Steve Elliott, a sculptor and vice president of academic affairs at Wayne State College.

“It does bring something special to the downtown,” Elliott told the Sioux City Journal. “It’s drawn a lot of really positive attention. I see this as the beginning of what could come.”

Elliott sits on a six-member committee that was formed about a year ago after the city budgeted $30,000 for public art projects. They settled on a building mural for the high visibility it would have, and the nonprofit Majestic Theatre was a willing participant. Of the 15 submissions received, Loewenstein’s stood out, and when he came to Wayne to learn more about the city, its history and culture, committee members were confident they’d made a wise choice when commissioning him to do the work for $20,000.

Each time he looks at the colorful mural, Giese is more pleased with the decision.

“I think he captured the spirit of the town,” Giese said. “The more you look at it, the more attention to detail you see.”

Details such as the vultures often seen roosting on the radio tower in town. The silhouettes of hay bales. Giese said he notices something new almost every time he looks at it.

The committee hopes to add something new each year to Wayne’s public art scene. With $20,000 in the current year’s city budget, the committee is planning a downtown sculpture walk next summer.

Some may question the use of taxpayer dollars for public art, but Elliott said art can benefit a city in many ways. Not only does it add to the quality of life, art and related festivals or competitions can attract visitors who will shop and eat in town. Visitors may like what they see so much, they may decide to move there or open a business. Creating a vibrant downtown can help convince younger people to stay rather than leave for larger cities.

“It’s been proven that the arts have substantial impact on communities,” Elliott said. “I see it almost as something that is a necessity for a thriving city.”

Since moving to Wayne 17 years ago, Elliott said he’s see a dramatic makeover of they city’s downtown area into a mixture of antique stores, boutiques, shops and eating establishments that bring life to Main Street. Public art could make the city even more appealing. Annual projects also could lead to more chances for local artists to display their talent and gain exposure.

Giese envisions not only large projects like the mural and sculpture walk, but a number of small projects that could include painting electrical boxes downtown and doors on businesses that could make a big impact on Wayne’s appearance.

A compelling first project, the mural was bounded by the size of the building.

“It’s a great first step. It makes me hungry for going out and doing more,” Giese said.

The possibilities are as infinite as the artists’ imaginations. As for sprucing up Wayne, or any city, through public artwork, it’s hard to imagine a better idea.

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