SOUTHINGTON — Residents will lead the way in creating a mural espousing the values of Martin Luther King Jr. as part of a statewide public artwork campaign.
Southington Community Cultural Arts held an information session on Wednesday about participating in the statewide “MLK39: Racial Equity Mural Tour” being organized by Rise Up Hartford. The tour aims to create murals in 39 municipalities, one for every year of Martin Luther King Jr.’s life.
“We were very, very happy with the turnout and the support. We had close to 100 people that came in live and virtual,” said SoCCA executive director Mary DeCroce. She said residents were supportive of the idea and some already expressed interest in participating in a steering committee to find a site, theme and partners to do the painting.
“It did create an excitement that Southington can have this and the decision for what and who is portrayed are in the community’s hands to give their suggestions and of course the final design will come from the lead artist,” she said. That lead artist could be the renowned street artist Ryan “Arcy” Christenson, known to many residents for the murals he’s worked on along the Farmington Canal Heritage Trail.
It’s important to DeCroce that the steering committee be representative of Southington’s diversity, which she’s glad to see already seems to be the case. The steering committee evaluate potential sites for the mural, as well as the general theme and subjects.
“Southington is predominantly a white community, so to have the opportunity for all people of color in our town — all races, all backgrounds — to really participate in a town event I think it’s just groundbreaking,” she said.
Having residents involved in the project at all stages will not only keep the mural grounded in the local community, but could also create a platform where they can learn about its message in a setting that promotes constructive positivity.
During the information session, residents visited four stations and filled out sticky notes with ideas for the mural. DeCroce said some of the ideas included the town’s involvement in the underground railroad and local African American civil rights activists who marched with MLK.
Some of the first murals to be completed under the project were unveiled to coincide with June 19 or Juneteenth, which President Joseph Biden established as a federal holiday commemorating the end of slavery. Rise Up Hartford live streamed the unveilings in Torrington, New Haven, West Hartford, Bloomfield and Manchester.
Rise Up has done around 25 public art projects in Connecticut, creating murals on businesses, working with municipalities and non-profits seeking to create public art displays, and directly fundraising for its own public projects. Alongside its work in public art, Rise Up provides financial and professional support to youth development organizations and connects youth with professional networks and community service, according to its website.
The mural in Manchester was the inspiration for the larger project, featuring a portrait of MLK on the outside of the Mahoney Recreation Center, Rise Up founder Matt Conway said. It was completed in January, but expanded to be three times the original size in recent months to also include Dr. Diane Claire-Kearney, a director of diversity and inclusion for the local school district and a lifelong advocate for equal education rights for Black and brown students.
“It was really hearing from the individuals in Manchester, which inspired us to take the message statewide,” Conway said.
Bringing a similar public art display to Southington would give residents the chance to display their own exemplars and ideals.
“The opportunity to truly bring the community together for a single project and purpose around love and unity. It's a message that speaks across race, gender, color, social class,” Conway said. “So it really is an opportunity to bring the community together to bring their foot down and say Southington is a community that welcomes everybody and gives everybody the opportunity to succeed and flourish.”