The painting’s on the wall

Bricks and Murals is a group currently raising funds to have a series of murals executed in downtown Westerly/Pawcatuck, the twin towns that cross the border from Connecticut (Pawcatuck) to Rhode Island (Westerly). The two communities meld together at the state border, and often run events and more jointly. The mural project is to be executed by so-called “Walldogs,” a group of volunteer artists from around the world, who work together (for free, though the project leaders and their assistants will get a stipend while the work is ongoing) on mural projects celebrating local history. The fundraising is to pay for the necessary supplies and establish a fund to maintain the murals. There will be a festival with music and food vendors, etc., when the murals are executed, which is scheduled for September 13-17, 2017.

Now this is all well and good. These two towns – especially Westerly, which grows considerable (and grows a lot wealthier) when the summer residents arrive – should be able to reach their goal of $160,000. (Their FAQ is here.) Insofar as I applaud any attempt to bring public art to every town, this is commendable, but does it go far enough?

Clothespin-oldenberg

Claes Oldeburg’s Clothespin is a well-known Philadelphia public sculpture.

Many cities have public art, from isolated examples to ongoing annual projects. I have blogged about New London, CT’s murals: Philadelphia has many public sculptures; Colorado Springs, CO, has an annual Art on the Streets festival, with new works and events. There are a lot of other examples. But many of these celebrate the whole spectrum of art, from classical sculpture to the latest in abstraction. Bricks and Murals is devoted to the past, and comes across as tame and unrevealing. The risk when only celebrating the past is it suggests that the present might not be so interesting. I am extremely doubtful of Bricks and Murals assertion that “…Bricks and Murals will serve as an economic driver – attracting people into Westerly-Pawcatuck to enjoy a year-round, town-wide living gallery…” It’s unlikely that an unchanging display of pleasant but unremarkable murals will generate much of anything. 

Should their fundraising efforts come up short, I hope the powers that be will aim even higher, and propose a series of murals that speak to the vibrancy of today’s town. Portraits of locals along the lines of some New London murals; social commentary, even a set of walls that are repainted in new designs every few years. Playing it safe produces are that is easily ignored, and what’s the point of that?

I like the way the Walldogs recruit local artists to work with the project leaders, though I wonder if the locals could design works more interesting than those proposed – you can watch this promotional video to see the designs. Small towns want small-town art, and there’s nothing wrong with that. For $160,000, though, every town should be sure it gets its money’s worth.

Note: as of today (June 19, 2017), they have raised about $70,000 toward their goal.

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One thought on “The painting’s on the wall

  1. I love public art, but it is a tough sell – and an area where governments often fall short. For instance, a certain percentage of the total cost of ANY building that involves federal funding is required by law to be allocated to public art works at said structure. The new airport terminal at Block Island had a bidding process, and a local Bock Island artist won the bid to create fresh paintings in the terminal lobby. Way to go, Marilyn Bogdanfy! The Westerly Airport terminal project, on the other hand, has only a leftover “Potato Head” project from the old RI promotion. She is skillfully done in mosaics, an amusing female potato ready for the beach, but IMHO this is a rather weak expression of art. It was originally placed at the Fred Benson State Beach pavilion on Block Island, but they didn’t want it. (Can’t say I blame them.) Another sad bit of public art in Westerly was the stone piece at the corner of Railroad Ave. and Canal Street, near the train station. It had a certain charm, I thought – if not my favorite piece of sculpture. It featured three granite stones and three salmon to represent Westerly, but after vandals broke off the top stone, it has remained broken, a snowman without a head.

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