When visiting Southern cities, you don’t have to set foot inside a museum to get a taste for the area’s artistic endeavors. A stroll down the right street can lead you to murals and public art installations that were inspired by the city’s history and culture.Gone are the days when street art was purely a punishable act. Today many of these works are not only celebrated but are commissioned to increase foot traffic. The best part? You can visit these masterpieces without spending a dime.
Rhodes-Hill Mural, Memphis, TN: The five-story mural is the collaboration of artist Jeff Zimmerman and students involved in the Center for Outreach in the Development of the Arts at Rhodes College. The mural, which is clearly visible from the Memphis Redbirds' ballpark, is meant to showcase the city’s diverse culture and even features real-life Memphians like Savannah Simmons in the left-hand corner. 195 Madison Avenue
LightRails Birmingham, AL: In 2013, the City of Birmingham hired San Antonio artist Bill Fitzgibbons to create an art-light installment to encourage pedestrian foot traffic in a downtown underpass. The result is LightRails, a collection of multicolored LED lights that flash in various patterns throughout the tunnel. The installation not only brings a dose of bright color to the city center but also improves pedestrian safety in the area. 18th St. Viaduct, near Railroad Park
Preservons la Creation Houston, TX: Last June, muralist Sebastien Boileau unveiled Preservons la Creation, the largest mural in Houston’s street art history. He said that his mural was inspired by the work in the Sistene Chapel that has survived more than 5,000 years. As a street artist, much of Boileau’s previous work has been removed or painted over, and with his newest project he wanted to create something that would be around for generations to enjoy. 2800 San Jacinto
Johnny Cash Mural, Nashville, TN: Prague may have its infamous Lennon wall, but no visit to Nashville is complete without visiting the city’s own homage to a musical sensation. In 2003, three artists painted a 150-foot-long wall downtown to honor the legendary Johnny Cash. Overtime, harsh weather and eager tourists stripped paint from the mural, but in 2012 the original artists repainted it for the 10th anniversary of Cash’s death. 300 4th Ave. South
Graffiti Church, Washington D.C.: Street artist Alex Brewer, also known as Hense, painted lively colors and playful patterns on all sides of the run-down Friendship Baptist Church in D.C.’s Ward 6. Brewer said that his 2012 project was part of an effort to transform this waterfront neighborhood into D.C.’s artistic hub. Last year the church became the headquarters for Blind Whino, a nonprofit community arts club. 700 Delaware Avenue Southwest
Alligator Mural, Atlanta, GA: This upside-down alligator was painted by Belgian street artist ROA as part of Atlanta’s 2011 Living Walls conference. ROA has used black, white, and gray spray paint to depict different animals in street art festivals all over the world, and in each city he chooses an animal that is indigenous to the area. His Atlanta alligator continues to be a recommended tourist stop even three years after its creation. 209 Mitchell Street
Tunnelvision, Columbia, SC: In 1975 Columbia artist Blue Sky received a $3,000 grant from the South Carolina Arts Commission to paint Tunnelvision on the Federal Land Bank of Columbia. The mural sits on the edge of the building’s parking lot, preventing drivers from plowing into the mural’s glowing sun, but tourists have reported seeing birds unknowingly fly straight into the wall. 1550 Marion Street