Posted by David Delcore - The Times Argus, Reprint on Aug 17, 2017
With the original artwork faded, the Summer Street retaining wall in Barre may soon be getting a more permanent mural decorating it. Karl A. Rinker Photo
BARRE — Local Rotarians don’t want to build a wall, but they’d sure like to beautify one.
Hoping to turn a neglected retaining wall on Summer Street into a welcoming piece of public art, Barre Rotarians are actively exploring what president Caroline Earle described this week as a “legacy project” for the local club.
If all goes as Earle hopes, the wall will never again look as sad as it does right now because Rotarians want to adopt it.
The whale-shaped wall is currently graced with two framed but horribly faded murals that were painted by at-risk youngsters as part of a grant-funded project six years ago. Those murals, like the full wall version that preceded them before it was painted over many years ago, were fleeting attempts Earle believes Rotarians can accomplish in more lasting fashion.
In fact, Earle told a receptive City Council this week, that is precisely the point.
Earle said the plan being discussed would involve repainting the mural every 10 years, but cleaning and touching it up every summer.
“It really wouldn’t be a question of: ‘This looks beautiful for a year or two and then it’s run down for eight years and we’d redo it,’” she said. “We really want it to be lasting and to be maintained and respected.”
That was music to Mayor Thomas Lauzon’s ears because, he said, “despite the best of intentions” earlier attempts to spruce up the retaining wall have lacked the requisite follow-up.
Lauzon said the fact that Earle was viewing the wall as a project that could be passed from one generation of Rotarians to the next was comforting, given the club’s deep roots in the community.
“That’s the part that really excites me,” he said.
Earle said the condition of the wall is one question she would like answered, if only because it will affect fundraising for a project she believes could be finished by this time next year.
“If we have to raise more money to make the surface suitable for purposes of a really terrific mural, then we would want to know that,” she said.
Earle said a grant from the Rotary Foundation is a possibility and she has already reached out to Spaulding High School Principal Brenda Waterhouse to explore enlisting the assistance of high school students. Earle said conversations with Waterhouse, a fellow Rotarian, have involved the possibility of creating a for-credit opportunity for students to focus on all aspects of art, from business to production.
Design, permitting, fundraising and painting will all be components of the project and while Rotarians hope to consult with professional artists and art teachers, the project could be a valuable learning experience for students.
It would also eliminate an eyesore in a neighborhood that is on the rebound thanks to Downstreet Housing and Community Development’s multimillion-dollar redevelopment project.
Earle said Rotarians are excited about the possibility of making a lasting artistic investment.
“We really feel a full wall mural would really be something that would benefit the beauty of that area,” she said.
City Manager Steve Mackenzie said he would provide Earle with a structural assessment of the wall and she said she would get back to the council with a budget and design for its review.
Though Lauzon said he was eager to see a plan to finance the creation and ongoing maintenance of the mural, he didn’t feel the need to weigh in on the design.
“I trust that the Rotary is going to do something that the city is going to be proud of,” he said.