MERIDEN — Eddie Rivera works as a stylist at Feel Fresh Hair Studio and Design three days per week. The other two days he’s been painting the White Rabbit, Mad Hatter and other characters from “Alice in Wonderland” on an exterior wall of the Downtown Coffee Shop.
Rivera has spent the past several weeks bringing the colorful characters to life and bringing art to a visible spot on West Main Street.
“I wanted to make something that kids and the older generation could relate to,” Rivera said. “I wanted something with vibrant colors. I wanted it to stand out.”
Rivera came up with the idea about two years ago, but couldn’t get funding, he said. He started a GoFundMe account, and Downtown Coffee Shop owner Tina Dalipovski supported the idea. Landlord Ross Gulino approved the design and gave the green light.
“It’s looking great,” said Dalipovski, who contributed to the $1,300 cost of supplies. Rivera donated his time.
The response has been good so far.
“It’s a way to bring all types of individuals together,” said Theresa Roccapriore, who came to the coffee shop to visit Rivera. “It’s the magic of intergenerational art.”
Roccapriore is commissioning Rivera to draw a character for her children’s book series based on “Alice in Wonderland.”
With no formal training, Rivera freehand designs and creates original pieces. Some of his work can be found at Feel Fresh, 65 W. Main St., and in other places around the city.
Rivera would like to do more murals with young art students.
Apollo Maldonado, the city’s artist in residence, is engaged to Rivera’s sister. The pair often bounce ideas off each other.
“We want to revitalize Meriden through art and culture,” Maldonado said. “We want to change the perception through art as well as inspire young people.”
Future murals include the wall in front of a vacant lot at 19 Colony St. and behind 21-23 Colony St., near the train station.
“We want something new and edgy that pays respect to Meriden’s past,” Maldonado said. “Eddie’s art is the beginning of something that is going to be great for the city.”
Volunteers and the Making Meriden Business Center are working together to revitalize downtown through art and music.
“Eddie’s mural is a welcome splash of color downtown,” David Cooley, business recruiter for Making Meriden Business Center, said in an email.
Cooley and Maldonado are looking at programs in other New England cities and places such as Philadelphia, Miami and San Francisco to understand how best to coordinate artists, businesses and property owners.
“Good, thought-provoking murals do create a sense of place and will bring a positive energy to downtown,” Cooley said. “Funding, as always, is the big challenge.”
Rivera selected the “Alice in Wonderland” theme for its universal appeal. He hopes it will serve as a reminder to young people to nurture their talents.
“I wanted to bring life into this place and inspire young people to stay off the streets and chase their dreams,” Rivera said. “If they can see a 34-year-old do this, they can stick with their dreams.”
A Meriden Sidewalk Art Sale, hosted by Carrie Teele, will be held July 21 from 1 to 6 p.m. between 5 and 53 Colony St. Rain date is July 28. The event features artists, craft vendors, a sidewalk chalk contest, food trucks and more.