This innovative art destination is changing Waverly one coat of paint at a time.
By Kristin Luna
Humphreys County may be most known as the home of Loretta Lynn, but these days tourists are flocking to the county seat, Waverly, for an entirely different reason: paint. Lots and lots of colorful paint.
Deep within a grove of oak and cedar trees on the edge of town, cinderblock walls rise from the earth. Only, these aren’t just any old walls; these are rotating canvases adorned with original creations by world-class artists from across the country—these monoliths comprise the Walls Art Park.
The seed of an idea
The Walls Art Park in Waverly is the brainchild of local entrepreneur Kansas Klein, a frequent flier whose far-flung travels inspired him to bring art to his own community. It was also, in part, prompted by a train.
“This train that runs through our town is covered in amazing graffiti art, and I’ve always wondered what these artists could be capable of if they weren’t trespassing or vandalizing,” he says. “How much better could their art be in a place that’s legal and free to explore what they do?”
The Walls Art Park first opened in 2018 with 14 walls scattered among three wooded acres; a year later, Klein added two acres, which allowed for even more walls once trees were cleared and trails added. Today, the park spans 80 paintable surfaces, and Klein has plans to expand into the adjoining 10 acres with camping areas and other forms of three-dimensional art like sculptures and wood carving.
Prior to developing this urban art oasis in the middle of pastoral Tennessee, Klein had no experience in the arts—”I have no talents; I can’t sing, I can’t dance, I can’t paint,” he jokes, “but I really love art”—so he brought in Nashville native Stephen Sloan (@neverxtinct) to help with logistics, curating and artist relations. Sloan, a muralist and digital artist, had the idea to hold paint jams three times a year as a way to cycle talent through the park and constantly keep things fresh, while also providing the local community with more access to the arts.
The park has already gained serious street cred in the graffiti world with painting one of its coveted surfaces somewhat of a badge of honor. In its first three years alone, Walls Art Park had original pieces by artists from Ecuador, Chicago, Ohio, North Carolina, Austin, Los Angeles, Florida and all corners of Tennessee, among other destinations.
“What the Walls Art Park is doing is unique for several reasons. Painting at the park is done purely for the joy of painting. It’s safe for all ages, and it’s a lot of fun without any pressure,” shares Nashville-based artist Eric “Mobe” Bass (@mobeoner). “I wanted to be a part of the art park because I love to paint in public, I love the idea of sharing my work with everyone, and I enjoy the vibe at the paint jams. It’s great to meet new people and talk about art.”
Painting without parameters
Three times a year, around 70 artists convene in the woods to breathe life into these walls. There are no rules or set subjects; artists are free to paint what they want, and Klein has found that the subject matter often trends toward topics that are important to them. He also stresses that the artists are always a mix of Walls Art Park veterans and first-timers, so newcomers need not be afraid to apply as the goal is to gather a diverse group of artists who will bring something new to the table.
“The fact that Walls Art Park is adding urban art to a more conservative community is incredible,” Nashville-based muralist Tara Aversa () says. “It’s giving artists a chance to have creative freedom while hosting paint jams that bring the graffiti and painting communities together in this magical place—it’s an outdoor art gallery in the woods, and that alone is unlike anything I’ve ever seen.”
But nothing in the street art world is ever permanent, which is another appealing trait to many artists: The walls are repainted regularly. In addition to the jams, the walls are open for artists to paint every other day of the year, provided they don’t cover a piece of art that has been up less than 30 days.
“You know that whatever you do won’t last forever,” Mobe says, “so that in itself gives you a sense of freedom. You can just paint and have fun.”
How to visit Walls Art Park
The Walls Art Park is open and free to all seven days a week, 24 hours a day, and regularly posts completed murals and upcoming events on its Instagram and Facebook accounts. Those who want to see the murals being created can attend any of the annual paint jams, which are held in March, June and September each year. Artists interested in being a part of an upcoming paint jam can submit examples of past work via the Walls Art Park’s website.