New Community Art Dots West Hartford Center, Artists Reflect
By: Andrew Maglio
Design by Kiley Mattson
Last fall, as the winter weather rolled in and the country braced for another wave of the Covid-19 pandemic, businesses throughout the Center packed up their outdoor seating areas. Chairs, tables, and heaters (plus the occasional tropical plant at restaurants like Treva) were put into storage as LaSalle and Farmington moved to accommodate greater traffic.
Now, nearly ten months later, with summer on the horizon, the Center is spotted with outdoor seating and fairy lights once again. The majority of Connecticut residents fully vaccinated, these idyllic outdoor areas are attracting increasingly-willing-to-return-to-normal Connecticut residents. Given the centrality of renewed outdoor seating, the West Hartford Art League recently undertook a public art initiative to highlight and elevate these unique spaces.
Last summer (the first one in which West Hartford allowed outdoor seating in the Center’s streets), restaurants pragmatically separated the street from pedestrians eating with concrete jersey barricades. This year, these same barricades are back… but this time with a twist!
On May 23rd, nearly a dozen local artists arrived at the Center with paintbrush and designs in hand and set to work, beautifying the concrete traffic barriers scattered throughout town.
Each artist (and his/her friends/volunteers) came with a unique design. Despite the lack of an official “open-call” for artists, there was an eclectic mix of colors and styles. Designs ranged from geometrically-oriented to locally-inspired pop-art and the rolling hills of wine vineyards.
I sat down with several artists, including Courtney Silvia, to discuss the idea behind and development of their work.
Design by Courtney Silvia
Sylvia’s work combines a plethora of inspirations. Her main subject is a series of black flowers set against a red and yellow background, an homage to the famous roses at Elizabeth Park in town. She also includes two beer bottles “clank”-ing (reminiscent of mid-20th century pop-art) and children running whimsically to more subtly capture the “culture of West Hartford.” Silvia even considered how details like the font that spell out “Welcome to West Hartford” could be employed to highlight the town’s spirit. She notes that the “famous Hartford font” she uses in her work is similar to other Hartford organizations’, including the Yard Goats.
Originally, Silvia’s design was set to be 40 feet, but upon realizing that there was one more barricade than she had originally expected, she extended her design by half of its original length. Despite this impromptu altercation, Silvia’s very first work of street art flows seamlessly and beautifully captures the town’s unique identity.
The inspiration seems to flow both ways: according to Silvia, it’s not only artists bringing these designs to local residents, but she (and presumably others) are influenced by “a really strong art… community” in central Connecticut. Embracing the geographic element of her unique artistic identity, Sylvia has begun publicly noting it when describing herself (and her work) online.
In total, I discussed the project with three of the eleven artists, and each one of them highlighted the value of community art in strengthening local bonds. Christy Corey eloquently explained, “Projects like this are really important for bringing the community together. As an artist, I feel supported by the community for being able to take part in it, but I also get to bring people out to help me paint it and they get to make their mark on their town. It's also a good way to draw people to the nearby restaurants and shops and hopefully boost businesses that may have been suffering during the pandemic. The artwork feels like a way to celebrate the community as things reopen and people are able to reconnect.”
Another artist, Magge Gagliardi, expressed similar sentiments and added, “It is so exciting to see West Hartford embracing the idea of public art not only with the barriers but the other various murals that are being commissioned around the Hartford area.” Indeed, this is the second recent public art project the West Hartford Art League has organized. Earlier this year, they set-up a series of paintings that utilized public bus stops as canvases.
Although this project may have been conceived as a result of the necessity of having barriers around town, public initiatives like this one are actually literally taking away barriers, transforming mundane concrete dividers into vessels of art, identity, and culture. As Connecticut residents slowly return to a degree of pre-Pandemic life, we are slowly destroying the physical barriers that kept us sequestered for over a year. Now, ready to re-emerge and eager to coexist in public spaces like West Hartford’ vibrant restaurants, this project elegantly replaces concrete barriers with beautiful murals that promise to strengthen community spirit and solidify town identity.
Design by Magge Gagliardi
Christy Corey's Design
If you are interested in experiencing this public art project for yourself, take a stroll around the center, or from home, visit the West Hartford Art League's page on the project.
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