Watertown, MA

Contact Name
Barbara Epstein
Project Dates
July 2012 through September 2013
Workshop Leader
Creative Communities Exchange (CCX) 2015
Tags
Design, Event
The Watertown Community Mural took advantage of a planning process for the town-wide pedestrian and bike path to initiate a project that involved citizens, students, teachers, officials, businesses and arts professionals in creating a work of art that reflects the character of the town. While generating enthusiasm for the path and the finished mural and providing meaningful work experience for local youth, the project also raised awareness and excitement about the power of public art in place making and community building. The first mural led to a 2nd created by paid student interns working with a professional artist. Moreover, the committee is currently moving forward on a public art strategic plan that will enable the town to incorporate public art routinely in the community fabric.
Project Goals
What were the specific goals of this creative economy project? Describe the community development challenge or opportunity that your project was designed to address:
After many years of community advocacy, a long-term plan to connect the Minuteman Bike Path to the paths along the Charles River through Watertown was underway. A 210 foot concrete wall along an existing segment of the path presented an opportunity to create visual excitement and generate enthusiasm for using the path and introduce residents to the process of incorporating public art into the fabric of the town.
Goals:
• Create a high quality and enduring public art installation with great community impact
• Transform a blank concrete wall into an exciting and welcoming feature of the path
• Artistically reflect the culture of Watertown
• Generate community involvement
• Provide a basis for further public/private initiatives and public art projects.
If the goals change over time, please describe how:
Although the goals of the project did not change substantially, the goals of the ad hoc committee formed to execute the plan did. Watertown is experiencing a development boom at present. Further, the town is engaged in a Comprehensive Planning process that will map the shape and direction of town growth in the decades to come. Watertown possesses some notable cultural resources, including the Arsenal Center for the Arts, the Watertown Children’s Theatre, the Armenian Museum, a growing number of galleries and an active population of artists, writers, musicians and filmmakers. Influenced in part by these factors, the committee began to envision an ongoing role in the community for an entity that would advocate, create partnerships and marshal the resources to advance public art projects in tandem with this growth.
Who was involved in this project and what did they do? (be sure to include the partners from outside of the creative sector and how local voices were included):
For the project, an oversight committee was convened comprising representatives of Watertown Citizens for Environmental Safety, the Bicycle and Pedestrian Committee, Community Development and Planning Department of Watertown, Sustainable Watertown and the Arsenal Center for the Arts. The oversight committee formed a partnership with the Watertown Cultural Council, which supported the project with a grant and agreed to act as fiscal sponsor for the purpose of receiving funds. The Marketing Vice President of the Watertown Savings Bank served as both advisor and lead donor. Additional support was secured from the property owner whose retaining wall was the site of the artwork and from the Boys and Girls Club and Watertown High School faculty, who helped to recruit student interns to execute the project with a professional artist. The Watertown Recreation Department agreed to be responsible for the student interns, thereby taking responsibility for screening and hiring and liability in the event of injury. Local businesses contributed money and in-kind and pro bono resources.
How does this project relate to a larger community development strategy?
Public art is incorporated in the draft Comprehensive Plan in two sections. In the Economic Development section, Goal 5, Section D states: “Provide and promote the arts to enhance the sense of place and quality of life for all residents.” Strategies include:
1. Require public art to be incorporated into projects and public spaces and that a maintenance/conservation plan be developed for each installation.
2. Pursue a percentage for the Arts and other funding sources related to public art.
3. Create a public art and culture committee to participate in site plan review, distribute public funds for the arts and facilitate the placement and advocacy of public art.

In the Historic, Cultural and Art Resources section, Goal 3 is “Support artistic and cultural assets and place-making activities.” Section C states: “Develop a public arts program to foster lively and attractive streetscapes.” Strategies include:
1. Establish a public art trust for funding purposes
2. With neighborhood input, identify sites for permanent art installations, such as public buildings parks, public spaces, and transit structures
3. Collaborate with owners of vacant parcels, parks, empty storefronts and buildings to erect temporary art installations
4. Install public art as a required part of significant new public and private development.
5. Develop and fund a conservation plan for public art in civic spaces.
6. Create a public art and culture committee to participate in site plan review, distribute public funds for the arts and facilitate the placement and advocacy of public art.

The public art committee contributed significantly to the shaping of this language. The 2013 pathway mural and a 2014 project have become the starting points of a comprehensive public art effort supported by the Community Development and Planning Department and city councilors, as well as residents.
What projects or places, if any, inspired your approach to this creative economy project?
Many locales throughout Massachusetts and New England interpret public art in broad and inventive ways and incorporate public art throughout the urban landscape. Right next door to Watertown, Cambridge and Somerville are model communities in the integration of public art, including both permanent and temporary installations that contribute to their successful place making. The Cambridge Arts Council staff gave generously of its time, knowledge and resources to educate our oversight committee about the costs, process and timeframes of mural projects.

Our committee members are alert to examples of public art wherever we go, and are constantly expanding our definition of what public art is, from mosaic-covered streetlamp posts on St. Marks Place, NY, to holiday light installations in the squares of Cambridge to the 4th Plinth in Trafalgar Square.
Project Specifics
Please list the steps taken to implement the project:
The steps taken by the project committee were as follows:
1. Identify site and scope of project.
2. Develop budget and identify preliminary revenue sources.
3. Engage representative from Community Development and Planning Department to support effort, advise and participate on oversight committee.
4. Submit grant application to Watertown Cultural Council.
5. Approach potential corporate donors for support.
6. Research list of successful muralists in Massachusetts.
7. Request qualifications and interest of selected artists.
8. Convene artist selection committee to interview short list of artists, including representation from Arsenal Center for the Arts, high school arts faculty, high school art students, local artists, and existing members of oversight committee.
9. Execute Memorandum of Understanding with selected artist, stipulating artist’s obligation to provide documentation of insurance and a CORI report.
10. Conduct community survey through library, high school and other community outreach, soliciting ideas about the meaning of the city and iconic images of Watertown. Build awareness and support for mural project.
11. Establish agreement with artist about themes and symbols to be included in artwork and approve final design.
12. Partner with high school arts faculty to recruit student interns.
13. Partner with Watertown Recreation Department to function as employer and supervisor for student interns.
14. Solicit donations of supplies and equipment and volunteer labor to prepare and prime wall.
15. Facilitate execution of mural, including assistance as needed by artist, acknowledgement of students, snacks and celebrations.
16. Issue press releases and reach out to media representatives to insure periodic press coverage of project.
17. Celebrate completion of mural with “ribbon-cutting,” inviting town and school officials, press, parents, path users and other community members.
If the project steps changed over time, please describe how:
The project steps served us well and were adaptable as needed to respond to circumstances. The artist formed a wonderful partnership with high school art faculty and students and was engaged to do a residency project the following spring 2014 in the high school.

We undertook a second mural project during summer 2014 with the same artist, building on themes established during the spring residency. The site was selected on a “gateway” route to provide optimal visibility for the project, and by extension, the public art efforts. For the second project, we increased the budget and raised sufficient funds to pay the student interns a modest stipend and establish the beginnings of a general maintenance and conservation fund. The mural was again a great success and garnered universal plaudits.
Obstacles
What were your major obstacles for the completion of the project?
We were committed from the start to having students involved in the project, however liability issues threatened to derail this part of the plan.
Who or what was instrumental in overcoming these obstacles?
We secured the participation of the Recreation Department to oversee the student interns.
What top three suggestions would you give to others attempting a similar project?
1. Identify a “champion” in city government who supports the project with advice and facilitation and if possible, participation. Reach out to form alliances with municipal, corporate and nonprofit entities.
2. Seek guidance from groups in other cities that have completed similar projects.
3. Identify a project that serves multiple constituencies, is celebratory and disarming and captures the public’s imagination.
Project Impact
How has this project strategically connected arts and cultural activities to social, economic, and cultural issues in your community? What is different in your community as a result of this project?
Users of the path and other residents expressed a proprietary interest in the developing project and great pleasure in the outcome. The project sparked conversations with the painters and among townspeople during the duration of the painting phase. Enthusiasm was high among businesses approached to provide a site and support for a second mural the following summer.

Further, the mural provided a successful basis on which to discuss ongoing efforts to incorporate public art into the town fabric. Town councilors on the Economic Development subcommittee expressed support for an ongoing public art effort, including budgetary support.
Why do you consider the project successful, as related to your project goals above?
The project met every one of our goals. The artist and students produced an artwork of high quality and community relevance, which reflects the nature of the town. Users of the pedestrian and bike pathway and all partners involved in the project were uniformly enthusiastic about the process and finished mural and asserted that it exceeded their expectations. Students were celebrated in the Town Council and the School Committee for their efforts. They were eloquent about what working on the project meant to them and how it sharpened their focus on career goals and understanding of work expectations.

When site selection was in process for the 2014 mural, every business property owner we approached was eager to be chosen; some are contemplating initiating mural projects on their own.
How did you measure this success or progress?
Measures of success included: quality of finished mural; partnerships formed; successful fundraising; engagement of student interns; reaction to mural of officials, press, partners, students, businesses, school personnel, residents and others.
Please describe any unexpected impacts:
The development of an ongoing partnership with the Community Development and Planning Department and vision for an institutionalized public art effort in the town was an unexpected impact of the original project.
CCX Workshop Handout