Newhallville Mural Lifts Off, With Strings Attached
The sight is arresting the first time you come across it. Nine women, lined up in a row, torch-bearers against a purple background. There is a Japanese scholar, her blue-green kimono belted against her torso, a book in the crook of one arm. An Abuela, leaning on her cane as she looks out at the viewer, and punches the sky with her torch. A mother, child asleep on her chest and crown of bright red roses in her hair. A Black women in a flapper dress, and an Indian woman in a sari, and a Native woman posing against the sky, and an African woman in a bright dashiki.
All looking out benevolently over the Farmington Canal, keepers of the city’s light.
Or at least, they could be by this summer, if artist Kwadwo Adae gets the adequate funds.
That’s the story for Adae, a New Haven artist who is working towards a new 18 x 106 foot mural project at 400 Goodrich St., a brick building owned by Tri-Con Construction Managers on the New Haven-Hamden border.
After securing a $12,000 Special Projects Grant from the state’s office of Arts, Culture, and Tourism in February, Adae is trying to work with community members, city nonprofits and the governments of both New Haven and Hamden to make the mural a reality. He estimates that the project, planned for a blank wall of the building facing the Farmington Canal Heritage Trail, will take 11 weeks.
Friday, the artist gathered at the site with the partners he’s already recruited—Community Placemaking and Engagement Network (CPEN) Founder Doreen Abubakar, Squash Haven Board Member David Talbott, Neighborhood Housing Services Fellow Elias Estabrook and Director of Community Building and Organizing Stephen Cremin-Endes, and Tri-Con Construction owners Brak and Bunardy Poitier. Together, the group is working to brainstorm sources of funding that will bring the initial $12,000 to Adae’s overall estimate of $40,000 for materials, labor, and equipment.
That price breakdown comes from administrative expenses ($1,400), community outreach presentations ($3,000), design, orchestration and installation from Adae ($15,000), several gallons of primer and paint ($1,052), marketing and publicity ($2,500), miscellany like flowers, mulch and tree stump removal (around $1,000). Adae will need scissor lifts to paint everything over six feet, in compliance with the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), which costs over $7,000 with an OSHA-compliant artist assistant who can work with him.
“They’re very expensive,” he said of the lifts on Friday. He added that if he can find a company to donate them, “I will work day and night” to finish that portion of the mural.
Before anything, Adae must match the $12,000 from the state—that’s a condition of the grant. He’s halfway there, with $2,000 from Farmington Canal-to-Rail Association, $2,000 from Yale New Haven-Hospital, and $2,000 from the Newhallville Safe Neighborhood Initiative. Per the grant’s conditions, he is also in the process of setting up three Newhallville-specific meetings, at Lincoln Bassett and King Robinson Schools and the Newhallville Community Management Team.
To get to that $40,000 number, he is looking for additional support from community foundations, the departments of economic development in both New Haven and Hamden, and local and national nonprofits, including the Awesome Foundation. The last time he completed a mural, he said, it took 10 different funders.
Crunching through snow Friday, he listened as group members gave advice on who to reach out to next. Talbott, director of Squash at Yale, said he’s hoping that both Squash Haven and Squash colleagues a Yale can be partners for the project.
“It’s about our kids,” he said, noting that several students at Squash Haven are from the Newhallville neighborhood. “We want to see it safer. This is an amazing way to do it.”
Adae said the idea for the mural came to him at the 2017 Women’s March in New York City. As he marched through the streets of Manhattan with hundreds of thousands of women, he said he thought of what he could do as an artist to make a statement against an administration built on rolling back the rights of women, immigrants, refugees, people of color and the poor.
“I felt deeply compelled to create a large-scale work of public art that is strongly feminist, positive, rich in diversity and anti-xenophobic,” he recalled via email. “Serving as a direct rebuttal to the systematically toxic political and social environment that women and girls are forced to navigate through.”
“We cannot as a society be perpetually complicit in failing women and people of color through inaction, which is the most efficient way of maintaining the patriarchal status quo,” he added. “Change will come—we are all connected and we all must do out part.”
His part, he realized, is working towards another mural on the Farmington Canal Heritage Greenway, a section of which snakes through New Haven and Hamden. In 2016, he completed a first canal mural by the Starr Street canal line crossing, based on footraces he’d watched over years of living in New Haven.
Now, he said he can see a second mural brightening the area, bringing kids and adults out to walk and play beside it. He said he is hoping to work with neighborhood kids on the project by this summer, if he’s secured adequate funding.
“It’s a really beautiful thing to share, visual language,” he said Friday, looking out over the site in a tweed suit and ram-shaped hat he had fashioned himself. “Positive visual language! Pro-women visual language. But before I get the community involved, I want to know that it can happen.”
Abubakar said she’s also hopeful that the group will know—and be at work painting—by then. On June 2, she is helping host an arm of CT Trails Day in the neighborhood, an outgrowth of the work she has done to build and beautify the Newhallville Learning Corridor with a pollinator garden, new landscaping and a more walkable trail. She said she wants it to be the beginning of neighborhood art-based walks, a weekly walking club, and increased use of the trail.
“This is about getting people up and out of their homes,” she said as she got into Adae’s car, and prepared to head back to work.
She added that she hopes to see more faces from the neighborhood as the project progresses.
“I work from the dirt up, and all my work is centered on what the community saying what they want.”