MAPLEWOOD, NJ — Art has moved from the inside of the 1978 Maplewood Arts Center to the outside with the introduction of the Springfield Avenue Partnership’s public art initiative into Maplewood’s business district, bringing a colorful mural to the side of the building and another down the street at the corner of Springfield Avenue and Prospect Street. Both created by local artists, the murals are part of an effort to bring more people into the businesses along Springfield Avenue.
“We’d been working with Maplewood to change the ordinances to allow for public art,” Julie Doran, Springfield Avenue Partnership’s district manager, said in a phone interview with the News-Record on July 5. “It was a lengthy process, but the town was supportive.”
The changes to allow for public art were about four years in the making, according to Doran. They had to be made so as to permit street art, while preventing people from painting just anywhere. Doran did research in towns that have public art programs, like Philadelphia and Summit, to model Maplewood’s new program after them.
Now, after months of work, the two murals are brightening up Springfield Avenue. On the side of the 1978 Maplewood Arts Center is Elijah Minton’s work, “Many Hands Make Light Work,” and a few blocks away, at 1883 Springfield Ave., is “I Am Maplewood,” painted by the husband-and-wife team of Michael David Adams and Viktorija Bowers Adams. Both mural designs were submitted to the Springfield Avenue Partnership and chosen by a panel.
“We looked for visible locations,” Doran said. “One is an art gallery, so it was a good fit, and the other is a highly trafficked corner. There’s been a lot of interest and excitement about it.”
The artists are just as excited about the projects as the viewers. Michael and Viktorija Adams live in Maplewood, and wanted to incorporate the town into what they painted on the side of the building.
“It’s everything we love about living here,” Michael Adams said in an interview with the News-Record on July 6. The mural shows a face divided into sections with varying skin tones, next to large block letters that spell “I Am Maplewood” with flags of the world filling in the letters.
“It’s telling people and children that they belong,” Viktorija Adams said in an interview with the News-Record on July 6. Other elements of Maplewood are also represented in the mural; a line of Martin Luther King Jr. Day luminaries are depicted on the wall and one of the flags in the words represents the Native Americans who lived in this area before it became Maplewood.
The two moved to the town from Brooklyn two years ago, and work together often; he is a photographer and she is a makeup artist. Their idea for the mural came from a project they worked on for “Harper’s Bazaar.”
“We wanted to be as inclusive and representative of who lives here as we could,” Michael Adams said. “People who live here love living here and love the town. It’s everyone’s town. And people honk and let us know how great it is. When people see their flag they get excited.”
Minton also said that residents were very supportive of his mural while he was painting the side of 1978 Maplewood Arts Center.
“Each area I go to, I see people gravitate to it and build on it,” Minton said in a phone interview with the News-Record on July 6. “People would pull over and talk, people who lived in the neighborhood would bring me water. That’s the coolest part — you get to connect with the community. Hopefully I can do more.”
“Many Hands Make Light Work” covers a whole side of the gallery building and shows a group of large hands launching a person into the clouds. The hands are many different colors, a choice Minton made in order to include as many people as he could.
“I was thinking about incorporating the community into it without polarizing any one group,” he said. “And I focused on the fact that we’re one community.”
Minton said that the Springfield Avenue Partnership’s art initiative will reap more rewards than just bringing more patrons to the business district.
“It’s something that not all suburban areas have, it speaks to a lot about the town,” Minton said of the murals. “If I’d seen something like this growing up it definitely would have influenced my art. I probably would have gone deeper into it.”
Viktorija Adams said that during the month and a half that she and her husband were working on “I Am Maplewood,” pedestrians would stop to chat and drivers would pull over to watch them work. The community engaged with the husband-wife team, as they did with Minton.
“Even teenagers and college kids would come and talk with us,” she said. “It’s nice to plant a seed in somebody’s mind, to pick up a pen and pencil. It’s definitely here to celebrate everyone.”
According to Doran, the murals are on Springfield Avenue to stay, and the organization is working on finalizing a third location for another mural. The utility boxes on the street will also be spruced up and painted, bringing even more color to the avenue.
Mayor Vic DeLuca was a supporter of changing the public art ordinances, saying that it has already encouraged Maplewood residents to shop on Springfield Avenue.
“The whole idea is to brighten up the avenue and have people spend time there,” DeLuca said in a phone interview with the News-Record on July 6. “People love it, and it’s helped identify the arts center. For the other one, there’s a lot of people driving west and it jumps out. It’s really eye-catching.”
Having local artists make the murals was important to DeLuca and the members of the Springfield Avenue Partnership. DeLuca said he wants local artists to participate in the community.
“They were so excited about doing it and contributing to the community,” he said. “We want to promote the artists in the town; it helps everyone.”
Doran stressed the importance of donations to keep the program going, saying that the murals were funded by the Springfield Avenue Partnership’s budget, sponsorships and donations.
“There’s not a dime of tax money,” she said. “It all comes from donations and fundraising.”
To donate to the public art fund, residents can visit www.springfieldavenue.com/public-art.
The “I Am Maplewood” mural has also turned into a hashtag, as residents have shared their photos of the mural on social media.
“I love seeing people posting,” Michael Adams said. “The whole message is everyone belongs here and everyone is accepted. They see themselves in it.”
“It belongs to the people of Maplewood,” Viktorija Adams said.
Photos by Amanda Valentovic, and Courtesy of Samantha Storch and Springfield Avenue Partnership