In many cities, hunts for mice on the streets are tasks left to cats, health inspectors, and pest control personnel. Not so in Greenville, SC. Everyone is
expected invited to search the city’s main street for the mice that are ever-present and underfoot.
The nine bronze mice were a senior project envisioned by Jim Ryan in 2000 during his final semester at a Greenville high school. The mice were sculpted by local sculptor Zan Wells and were hidden along Main Street. According to Wells, the idea was based on the nine mice hidden throughout the children’s book Goodnight Moon by Margaret Wise Brown.
The first mouse is located on Main Street’s North End and directs people to seek the other mice along the street. For nine blocks, the mice dot the landscape of the sidewalk, hiding in storm drains, on bannisters, under trees, and near pedestrian thoroughfares.
One of the nine “Mice on Main,” peering into Coffee Underground at the corner of Coffee Street
The real secret of the Mice on Main art installation is that it invites visitors to move down a street and experience the businesses, restaurants, hotels, and other pieces of public art along the way.
It’s no secret that I am a fan of public art, but I am especially a fan of public art that inspires passers-by to do something or to engage with it in some way. I want public art to create an experience for its viewers and to cause them to act. This is why I love the concept of Mice on Main.
Most visitors might notice a mouse or two, or hear about the statues in one of the local businesses lining the street. But the real secret of Mice on Main is its connection to kids. When the mice were installed, the creators issued mouse hunt hints. Each of the nine clues helps children in their quest to find all of the mice. And, trust me, even the most savvy, mature mouse hunters will not find all nine without a little help. They’re not hidden, but they are mouse-sized.
Over a decade after their introduction, the mice still inspire people to action. Even long-time Greenvillians discover the mice anew on trips downtown. I know they must be thinking, “I’ve seen all the mice before, but surely this one has not always been here.” And they might be right. The mice seem to move every now and then as various construction projects change the layout of the streetscape, or trees, sidewalks, or trashcans are replaced.
One of the most compelling things about this art installation to me is that it is perhaps at once the smallest and largest art installation in the city. Each mouse takes up three square inches, but the installation spans 9 city blocks on both sides of Main Street. It’s a compelling project that proves that public art doesn’t have to be big to have a dramatic impact.