UT mural project coming ‘everywhere you look’


TML Communications Specialist

In addition to “See Rock City” and “Visit Ruby Falls,” motorists in Tennessee may soon see a new slogan painted on barns, water towers, and walls across the state: Everywhere You Look, UT.

The murals are part of a marketing campaign by the University of Tennessee to show its presence in each of the state’s 95 counties. Ellie Amador, director of marketing for the University of Tennessee, said the project was partially inspired by the historic “See Rock City” style murals that still dot the state.

“Using murals to promote the University was something [UT Vice President for Communications and Marketing] Tiffany Carpenter had been thinking about for a long time—and the launch of the ‘Everywhere You Look, UT” marketing campaign in 2018 provided the perfect opportunity,” Amador said. “Carpenter was the driving force behind the campaign designed to tell UT’s story of statewide presence and impact. From Memphis to Mountain City and every county in between—UT is there. And there’s no bigger or better way to share that message than through the mural component of the campaign. Inspired by the iconic ‘See Rock City’ signs still visible today, the ‘Everywhere You Look, UT’ murals are generating excitement among alumni, community leaders and business owners across the state.”

One of the goals of the project is to show that UT has deep connections throughout the state.

“Each mural serves as a tribute to the family we’ve partnered with and the UT alumni, employees and students representing and making an impact in that particular county,” Amador said. “The mural also serves as a daily reminder to everyone who passes by that UT has a presence in each of Tennessee’s 95 counties and exists to serve all Tennesseans statewide. We’ve set a goal to paint a mural in every Tennessee county by 2030. We’re finishing our 12th mural this week in Grainger County and plan to start up again in spring 2021. In the beginning, we approached potential partners based on the visibility of properties and connections to the university. Today, most partners approach us. The storytelling aspect of each new location generates excitement in the surrounding area and submissions flood in for new properties we should consider. “

The project is also connecting alumni in new ways.

“Though not a requirement, every location to-date has an alumni connection—be it the property owner, a family member or the individual who submitted the property for consideration,” Amador said. “With more than 400,000 alumni worldwide and 235,000 alumni living in Tennessee, chances are pretty good that our partners have an alumni connection to the university.”

Each mural is funded through a combination of private funding and investment income with the cost of each mural averaging about $8,000. While Amador said a billboard can run from $1,000 to $3,000 a month, the murals provide a greater return on investment because they are expected to last 10 years until they begin fading.

The murals are already drawing a lot of attention. Kevin Helms, city manager of Harriman, said the city’s mural on the side of Chase Drugs downtown demonstrates a long connection between the three entities.

“The project was a partnership between the city, UT, and Chase Drugs,” Helms said. “Interestingly, the connections between these entities began at roughly the same time based on the information that we have available. In 1906, American Temperance University traveled to Knoxville to play UT in football and UT came to Harriman the following year for a game. It was also around this same time that Chase Drugs was founded in the city, so there has been a connection there between the three entities for almost 115 years.”

Helms said he hopes that the mural serves as a statement of the value Harriman places on education.

“We have far too many students graduate high school in this area and never seek additional education, even now that we have the Tennessee Promise,” he said. “While UT or a four-year institution may not be the right fit for everyone, we have a technology center and a community college right here in Harriman, and any of these would make a fine choice for someone to pursue additional education after high school. We know from demographic data that a person, their family, and their community are enhanced in many ways as the overall education level rises. Therefore, I wanted it to be a daily reminder to every student who drives by and sees the mural that they can achieve more than just a high school education, and once they have done so they can take on a role in the community to continue to help make it better than it ever was before.”

Amanda Love, executive director of the Humboldt Chamber of Commerce, had high praise for the mural painted on the side of the Flippin Law Firm in downtown Humboldt. Love said the location of the mural was due to the “tenacity” of lawyer Floyd Flippin, a well-known “die-hard UT fan” who campaigned for his business to bear the area mural.

“We love our mural,” Love said. “As the executive director of both the Humboldt Chamber of Commerce and Main Street Humboldt, I love having just one more reason for people to stop in our city. As we all know, people love taking selfies in front of the UT murals, so we’re hoping that people start taking advantage of this one. Afterwards, our hope is they drift down Main Street into our shops and restaurants then on around Humboldt and Gibson County.”

The 300-acre Crafton Farms along one of the two major highways in Portland is also home to a mural on one of the farm’s grain bins. Portland Mayor Mike Callis said the mural adds even more local color to the area.

“We are excited to have the UT mural in our community, especially since we already have six other murals in town,” Callis said. “These murals offer a great opportunity for tourism in our city.”

Amador said communities interested in submitting an idea for a property to be used in the mural project is encouraged to do so at https://everywhere.tennessee.edu/murals/campaign/.Those interested in making a momentary contribution to help cover the costs of a location is encouraged to contact Ellie Amador at amador@tennessee.edu.