FALL RIVER — The city is getting a lot more colorful, and Viva Fall River couldn’t be happier.
The nonprofit community organization is sponsoring the painting of three large murals in and around downtown Fall River, and on Friday invited the community to a “View and Chew” — a chance to see local and international artists do their work and grab a treat from some food trucks.
On Pocasset Street, the former Herald News building was being splashed at street level with vibrant colors and patterns by local artist Greg Pennisten. Three stories up, where the newspaper’s logo once greeted visitors coming from Somerset across the Braga Bridge, Portuguese artist Diogo Machado, aka Add Fuel, had covered it up; he stood in a boom lift, painting that wall with a pattern resembling Portuguese tiles.
Viva Fall River Executive Director Patti Rego said the muralists are creating art that broadcasts the city’s culture. “They do it in a way that preserves the tradition in the neighborhood but it tries to bring some life to the neighborhood and involve the community,” she said.
Viva Fall River is working with the Fall River Arts and Culture Coalition and nonprofit organization Beyond Walls to install the murals. FRACC is a collaborative, member-based organization dedicated to advancing arts and culture in the city to create a vibrant, inclusive and sustainable creative economy.
Beyond Walls Vice President Philip Fagan said the muralists work on tight schedules and tighter budgets — the artists will have two weeks to complete their works.
“Our mission is to activate space to strengthen communities,” Fagan said.
‘Keeping with the character of the city’
The old Herald News building is now owned and occupied by Potter’s Printing, a family-owned custom print shop that puts designs on everything from socks to shot glasses. Their building itself is now being decorated in lively fashion.
Penniston, originally from Swansea, stood in a scissor lift painting the exterior of a building that once held the paper’s printing press. From his spray cans emerged polka dots, flowers, swirls of color.
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“Visually it’s based off of old blockprint patterns from fabric produced in a mill that used to be right down the street,” Penniston said, referencing the American Printing Co., which flourished in the 19th and early 20th centuries just south on Anawan Street. “Blockprint patterns from the early 1900s — just kind of taking those and recycling them, making them much larger, in keeping with the character of the city and things that were produced here.”
“It’s really beautiful. It lifts an area that really is kind of blah and makes it a little different,” said state Rep. Alan Silvia, on hand to watch the masters at work. “The tile one is Portuguese tiles, which is popular everywhere — in the hallways and houses of Portugal, those tiles are everywhere. But now it sort of brings the culture here.”
Cultural exchange with Colombia
A short distance away, on the rear side of the Doran Community School, facing Broadway Extension, artist Kevin Ledo of Montreal and a crew was painting another mural, with patches of striking, vibrant color and the image of a young girl’s face smiling, overlooking the area.
Fagan said the girl pictured is a Doran student, and the mural is part of project involving the nonprofit groups the One Blue Sky Project and aptART.
“That’s a cultural exchange between the kids there and the kids in Tierra Bomba, Colombia, which is next to Cartagena,” Rego said.
“They’ll actually have interactions over Zoom where they’ll talk about their culture, their history, sports they like to play, food they like to eat,” Fagan said, “and then the artist there creates a mural based on those interactions.”
The murals are being funded through grants and donations to an ongoing crowdfunding campaign — in return, Rego said, the city is getting more vibrant spaces, with beautiful public artwork that claims those spaces. View and Chew was a way to bring people up close to the art as it’s being made.
“These events are for the community, and we want them to celebrate and to see how cool this is and see it being done,” Rego said.
U.S. Rep. Jake Auchincloss was one of those community members who turned out for the event. “Public art is one of the highest-impact public investments that you can make for place-making,” he said. “Doing it in places of public accommodation like rail stations, but also in areas that you’re trying to make more walkable … and also helping local artists and makers.”
Rego noted that the with Viva Fall River mural just east of Government Center and the new Portuguese tile mural west of it, drivers passing through on Interstate 195 will get a colorful glimpse of Fall River’s public art on their way through, coming or going. And she said there are plans in the works for more murals next year.
“We’re never known for our artwork in Fall River, but now they’re bringing that in,” Silvia said. “It changes what some people would think of Fall River. … It changes that perception and makes a big difference.”
To donate to the crowdfunding campaign, visit https://www.mightycause.com/story/Vivamurals.
Dan Medeiros can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Support local journalism by purchasing a digital or print subscription to The Herald News today.