When Luke Nero, Founder and CEO of Strut Bar & Club in Costa Mesa, CA, had the opportunity to create a mural on the side of the building, he knew exactly who he wanted to commemorate in a larger-than-life way. “While we are closed,” said Nero, “I would still like to have something for people to do that we can offer that is not indoors and can be enjoyed by everyone. Dolly Parton is the very best of humanity.” Nero knew there is no better time than the present to celebrate Dolly for her commitment toward the development of the Moderna vaccine to combat COVID-19. Over the last several weeks, Strut has been a 50-foot by 20-foot canvas, bursting with more color every day, as Dolly’s likeness has appeared and come to life among an ethereal backdrop.
The mural, painted by Long Beach artist David Gilmore, has an angelic Dolly illuminated yet again in the eyes of the LGBTQ+ community, a community she has fought for and alongside for decades. “I’ve always admired, respected, and truly loved Dolly Parton since I was a kid. She’s one of those rare people who transcends pop culture and is uniformly appreciated,” said artist David Gilmore who has been working six days a week for weeks to complete the mural, “Creating something fantastical, fabulous, over the top, and unleashing a rainbow of colors is fitting for a gay establishment and an especially for an icon such as her.”
Using numerous sketches for inspiration, countless instruments, and a lift, Gilmore ensured to bring the rendering to fruition in his own unique painting style.
Dolly has not only donated for the development of a vaccine, but she has given millions of dollars to continue HIV/AIDS research, wildlife conservation, and the support of childhood literacy. She has even created Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library, a book gifting program that mails free, high-quality books to children from birth to age five, no matter their family’s income.
The queer icon has now found a new home that will be dedicated to the first responders who have saved so many lives during the pandemic.
Just a couple of weeks ago, Dolly Parton declined a proposal to erect a statue in her honor at the Tennessee Capitol. In a public statement, Dolly shared, “Given all that is going on in the world, I don’t think putting me on a pedestal is appropriate at this time. I hope, though, that somewhere down the road several years from now or perhaps after I’m gone if you still feel I deserve it, then I’m certain I will stand proud in our great State Capitol as a grateful Tennessean.” A true class act, who has not wanted her celebrity to eclipse the philanthropy she has committed to throughout her career. On March 3, Dolly Parton received her first shot of the Moderna vaccine that she helped fund. She shared the experience with her followers, changing her song “Jolene” to “Vaccine” for the occasion.
Like many queer spaces that depend on nightlife business, Strut has found its share of obstacles as it has navigated the State and County’s constant changes in restrictions. “I have an amazing team who have fought tooth and nail to keep Strut on the up,” said Nero, “It has not been easy. We have accumulated close to a year’s worth of rent we have to pay back, just for some perspective. Strut is brand new and was designed to be a safe environment.”
Before Strut opened in 2019, Orange County had only two other LGBTQ+ spaces, Tin Lizzie Saloon in Costa Mesa and VLVT Lounge in Santa Ana. Early in 2020, VLVT Lounge closed abruptly and dozens of disgruntled employees, patrons, and partners divulged horror stories of mismanagement of funds which led to the clubs ultimate demise. With the lack of spaces dedicated to the LGBTQ+ community, Strut’s survival is more important than ever. Hopefully welcoming Dolly Parton as the patroness saint of the club will enhance Strut’s business when it is safe to open up once again.
Strut’s mural tribute to Dolly Parton will be completed this week and a brief unveiling is planned for March 13. The event will feature opening remarks, a performance of Dolly Parton’s ‘Jolene’, and a curtain unveiling of the mural.