Montague Selectboard signs contract for Shea Theater mural

A 3,200-square-foot mural is expected to be painted on the east exterior wall of the Shea Theater Arts Center on Avenue A in Turners Falls.

A 3,200-square-foot mural is expected to be painted on the east exterior wall of the Shea Theater Arts Center on Avenue A in Turners Falls. STAFF FILE PHOTO/DAN LITTLE

By VIRGINIA RAY

For the Recorder

Published: 01-25-2024 11:52 AM

MONTAGUE — The town is one step closer to seeing a 3,200-square-foot mural painted on the east exterior wall of the Shea Theater Arts Center now that the Selectboard unanimously approved a contract with Common Wealth Murals LLC, a Springfield-based nonprofit that will manage the $30,510 project.

The Selectboard had previously approved allocating $25,000 of the town’s American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) money to the project. Town Planner Maureen Pollock said this week that while the total cost is expected to be $30,510, she believes the portion that is not covered by the ARPA allocation can be garnered by “reaching out to organizations such as the Shea and local banks for financial donations.”

A steering group has been selected to review artists’ applications. Pollock said members were chosen with a goal of including folks with experience communicating about the arts and art concepts.

The panel is comprised of fashion designer Richie Richardson; longtime Franklin County Chamber of Commerce marketing manager Lisa Davol, who also spearheaded RiverCulture when it was first created; Shea Theater Vice President/Treasurer Josh Goldman; graphic designer and Nova Motorcycles co-owner Peter Chilton; and Leo Hwang, Montague Center resident and assistant academic dean at the University of Massachusetts Amherst College of Natural Sciences, who also does collaborative work with Mass Humanities, a cultural nonprofit.

“We think it’s a really strong group and we’re excited that they’re willing to help us out with this project,” said RiverCulture Director Suzanne LoManto, whose organization proposed the idea for the mural, working with the Planning Board.

Founded in 2006 with a Massachusetts Cultural Council grant, RiverCulture works to enhance and promote cultural programming in Montague. The program is administered through the Planning and Conservation Department.

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The steering group will vet applicants and select an artist. Once chosen, the artist will provide sketches of his or her idea, and then the steering group will host a community forum to get public input before approving a final design.

“It will be interesting to see what community input is and what artists come up with,” said Selectboard Chair Rich Kuklewicz.

The plan is for the actual painting to take place during a two-week period sometime between May and September, with the finished mural accomplished by November “at the very latest,” Pollock said.

Town Administrator Steve Ellis voiced concern about a few clauses in the contract with Common Wealth Murals, notably about maintaining and touching up the mural in future.

“I have all confidence that they’ll be guiding us to use the best supplies and materials for this project,” Pollock said of Common Wealth Murals, which has facilitated the creation of more than 40 murals with artists from all over the world. More than half the murals were created using a community engagement process.

Ellis also noted the Shea Theater’s wall should first be cleaned properly and that all materials should be “better and different than what we did with the Millers Falls mural, which was in a tough location, but didn’t last very long.”

Pollock assured attendees of this week’s meeting that Common Wealth Murals is “an educator” that provides outreach and “inspiration” for folks to learn about murals. The nonprofit will do so at the future Montague community forums about the mural’s theme and design.

“We hope this is the first of many murals throughout town,” Pollock said after the meeting. “This project is geared to a particular artist and it is a large-scale mural, so we want a seasoned artist, but moving forward, we’d love to do other murals, particularly community murals where community members can be involved in the actual painting.”