MCAC: Community should be part of creating public art

While they’re supportive of the public art project, members of Red Bank’s arts community think the public should have the opportunity to do more than vote on a design.

“The more public art, the better. But the best public art comes from the place where it is,” said Mary Eileen Fouratt, executive director of the Monmouth County Arts Council, which is based in Red Bank.

“Having murals throughout town is a wonderful opportunity for building community and getting the community involved,” Fouratt said, “not just in picking the artist, but in thinking about the subject matter they want portrayed in their town.”

The borough’s latest mural is proposed for the blank 145-foot west wall of the Red Bank Elks Lodge building bordering Riverside Gardens Park on West Front Street.

According to Councilman R.J. Bifani, who is coordinating the mural selection process, the borough Parks and Recreation Committee will use the input from residents and visitors to narrow the field down and present three designs to the mayor and council for final selection.

Bifani, who is running for re-election to his council seat in November, noted that the mural is the third brought to Red Bank and the first slated for the east side. The borough’s first publicly funded mural was painted on the wall bordering the pocket park at Drs. James Parker Boulevard, and one is planned for the south wall of Best Liquors at 75 Leighton Ave. Both murals were funded by the borough’s Neighborhood Preservation Project. Bifani is the council’s liaison to the NPP.

The third mural is being funded by a $21,000 grant from the Eisner Foundation Charitable Scientific Trust Fund. The trust was established by members of the Eisner family as a gift to the borough,

Competition for the mural commission was open to all artists who had experience in creating a mural of similar size and scope.

Fouratt said she welcomes Bifani’s effort but it’s not too late to involve the public in the process of creating the mural.

“Once the artist is chosen, they still have the opportunity to put into place interaction between the community and the artist; it’s not too late for that,” she said. “We’d be delighted to facilitate that, using models such as the Philadelphia Mural Project for community involvement in public art.”

“What we would want to suggest is … bringing the community in on the project and developing a mural in tandem with the community,” added Robyn Ellenbogen, arts education director for the MCAC.

According to Ellenbogen, The City of Philadelphia Mural Arts Project is a model of what could be accomplished in Red Bank.

“What they have done is to work with the community on many levels — with kids, elders, special community groups.”

“The thrilling part of it is to do it,” Ellenbogen, a visual artist, said. “You end up learning about who the community is and what their wishes, hopes, longings and association are. It’s a way of learning about people.”

— Gloria Stravelli