2014-09-11 / Front Page

Public Mural Uses Art to Create Community

By Suzanne Verderber

Ben Ellcome outlines the main objects of the community mural. Everyone is welcome, painting skills not required. (Photo by Kirby Varacalli) Ben Ellcome outlines the main objects of the community mural. Everyone is welcome, painting skills not required. (Photo by Kirby Varacalli) The Point district will become the site of Newport’s first community based mural on public property. The mural, featuring landscapes, seascapes, and familiar scenes of Newport, will be painted on the 200-foot retaining wall of the Van Zandt Avenue bridge, which forms the southern boundary of Hunter Park. From 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Saturday, Sept. 13, “#CaptureNewport Community Day,” the public is invited to assist in painting the mural, with the help of artists, and to enjoy food, games, and other activities.

Design of the mural began with the collection of over 400 photographs provided by students at the East Bay Met School and by members of the community at large who were able to submit photos on social media using the name #CaptureNewport (hence the hashtag in the title).

The #CaptureNewport mural is intended to both prevent graffiti and improve community relationships, and is the result of a fiveyear process. In a recent letter to the City Council, Kristin Littlefield, coordinator of the Clean City Program, wrote that in 2009, she noticed that the wall “was continually vandalized with graffiti. To prevent it, my staff painted over it, but after painting over graffiti multiple times, I had the idea to create a mural there. The mural would be the ultimate graffiti prevention measure.” She began to speak with Ben Ellcome, who has a broad background in the arts and social issues and is the coordinator of the mural project. “Graffiti is all about kids owning something,” Ellcome said. “We need to transfer that ownership to things that don’t bother us, things that fit what kids need and what we need as a community.”

Images for the community mural were submitted to the Facebook page #capturenewport.(Photo by Kirby Varacalli) Images for the community mural were submitted to the Facebook page #capturenewport.(Photo by Kirby Varacalli) The project picked up steam with the involvement of Jessica Walsh, director of prevention at the Women’s Resource Center, who cited research on the correlation between community involvement and prevention of social problems like domestic violence and substance abuse. She sees the mural not only as an opportunity to beautify the city, but as a way to encourage neighbors to interact and create better relationships. She said that research has shown that neighborly interactions have decreased over time, so she is seeking ways to counter that trend. This social perspective proved to be what was needed to gain outside funding for the project. The Women’s Resource Center was awarded a $5,300 grant from the Andrade-Faxon Charities for Children to cover the costs for supplies and equipment. Walsh emphasized that the grant was a breakthrough for the project, and once funding was secured, “everything else rolled forward smoothly.” The project was endorsed by the Tree and Open Space Commission this spring, and was approved by the City Council on Aug. 27.

Six artists volunteered to create the final design: Natalie Squillante, Cedar Hwang, Greg Adekomaya, and Kristin Dalrymple of Newport; Eliza Petty of Little Compton; and Hellio Pasheco of Fall River, Mass., who is experienced in mural art. The Newport County Fund provided a grant of $5,000 to provide stipends for the artists, who met at FabNewport in August to generate the design by drawing on a scale model, moving images around, erasing, cutting, and changing colors. “We made it through concession and compromise,” Ellcome said.

He said that the mural follows a horizontal line, one image blending into the next. From the east, a night scene of the Pell Bridge fades into a seascape at sunrise, followed by more detailed scenes of everyday life in Newport. The wall becomes smaller as it moves from east to west, and the street scenes take on a smaller scale to correspond to the wall’s decreasing size.

The artists also took into account five trees that block the wall. In some cases, trees will be painted behind the real trees. The second tree from the east end will block a lighthouse and fireworks during the summertime, but when it sheds its leaves in autumn, these features will become visible. Ellcome said that the east end of the mural should be visible from the Pell Bridge exit.

Littlefield is hopeful that the mural will finally solve the graffiti problem in Hunter Park. “When the community is involved, everyone gains respect for the mural,” she said. In case the problem persists, however, she said that the finished mural will be covered with a sacrificial coating that will make it easy to clean. She, Ellcome, and Walsh all insisted that extensive community involvement is central to the project’s success. Other participating organizations include the Arts & Cultural Alliance of Newport County, The Point Association, the Alliance for a Livable Newport, and Worldways Social Marketing.

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