Sanithna Phansavanh, photographs by Isadora Pennington

For many years, the pedestrian tunnel that connects College Avenue to Stone Mountain Trail and Church Street – connecting the Agnes Scott College campus to downtown Decatur – has been more or less left to the elements. A magnet for tags and graffiti and the floors lined with trash, this tunnel was at best quirky and at worst it was dangerous and scary. Two small lights had long since been painted over, and the high school and college students who walk through this tunnel daily would often refer to it as “creepy.”

So when the City of Decatur put out a call for proposals for local artists to pitch a mural, Decatur resident and artist Sanithna Phansavanh felt it was his responsibility to his community to submit his own proposal. 

The design, which is a loose composition of florals in bright colors, covers the walls and the ceiling, creating an immersive mural experience. I stopped by while Phansavanh put the finishing touches on the mural last week and got to hear a little about what this project has been like. 

“It’s fun because I’m tall enough to just do this,” said Phansavanh, showing me how easily he could reach the ceiling. “If I had to be on a ladder I would probably abhor it. It has been really fun to get the dynamics of all the shapes and lines to where it becomes enveloping. That’s the fun part.”

Once Phansavanh finished the mural an anti-graffiti coating was applied and local artist Larry Holland installed new LED lighting. “It was super gnarly, so we came in and cleaned up all this. It was basically like Krog Street Tunnel but not as well lit and scarier, if that makes sense,” explained Phansavanh. 

As we spoke, students let out from Decatur High School began to filter their way through the tunnel on their way home. Several kids complimented Phansavanh on his work, while some stopped to give him a high five or thank him for cleaning up the tunnel. Here’s hoping that this mural makeover will improve the lives of the number of people who rely on this tunnel every day. 

Isadora Pennington is a freelance writer and photographer based in Atlanta. She is the editor of Sketchbook by Rough Draft, a weekly Arts newsletter.