A spaceship-shaped, graffiti-covered utility shed in Scranton turned otherworldly in 2018 kicked off a push for more public art in the region.

Artist Eric Bussart, a Northeast Art Project collaborator, painted the bland, silver, mushroom-head-capped cylinder on Wyoming Avenue deep ocean blue with pink flowers growing on its sides.

Now the project and its founder’s passion for public art has created, aided and inspired more than six murals in the city and beyond, with more projects on their roster.

The project, spearheaded by local business owner and Scranton School District art teacher Ryan Hnat and a group of artists, began in 2018 after he and Bussart created the popular Scranton mural on the side of Levels Bar and Grill building in Dix Court in downtown Scranton. Afterward, they held gatherings and discussions to gauge interest in making Scranton a destination for street murals and public art.

Since then, they’ve collaborated with other local organizations and business owners to create murals. More mural-focused programs have also begun to pop up throughout the region, including Scranton Tomorrow Mural Arts Program and the Mosaic Project in Dunmore founded by Liz Naro. In 2020, On&On Recycled Marketplace on Capouse Avenue commissioned artist Mike Trovato to paint a mural of “Office” character Dwight Schrute on their building.

NEAP also helps with prep and planning, including establishing communications with the wall owners and the artists, said Hnat.

“It’s just about pushing and supporting public art and getting more opportunities for artists,” he said.

Murals help with both community and economic development, said Maureen McGuigan, Lackawanna County deputy director of arts and culture. Her department has helped fund many of the murals throughout the region.

“Murals are one of the most popular things in many parts of the country to really change the face of a region,” she said. “It’s an accessible art experience for people. It brings a lot of color and energy and makes people smile or think.”

NEAP has more projects in the works, including collaborating again with NeighborWorks of Northeast Pennsylvania to create colorful crosswalks in West Scranton, and is working on a mural in a yet-to-be-disclosed location in Scranton with artist Sam Kuchwara. Hnat also hopes to find more solid financial backing to bring out-of-town artists to the region to create public art.

Hnat, who often visits other cities with strong mural programs, is hopeful for what the outside art can do for Scranton and the region.

“I knew we needed it. … I see Scranton as a city that can really do well with tourism,” he said. “The city was in a really good direction until COVID hit and it kind of paused everything, but now there’s a resurgence.”