North Adams, MA

Contact Name
Phillip Sellers
Project Dates
May - September 2012
Event, Research, Design, Networking
Students, educators and professional artists worked collaboratively to create a public mural that documents and celebrates the role of the arts in the economic history of the city of North Adams, Massachusetts and its relationship to the world through the design, manufacture and distribution of Arnold Printworks dolls which were produced between 1892-1920. Images of the dolls were painted on columns of an underpass that serves as a conduit between the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art and historic downtown North Adams.

Project Goals
What were the project goals?
To reflect the city's heritage, diversity and character.
To connect artists, community members and businesses in the creative process.
To revitalize the landscape.
To visually connect the Mass Museum of Contemporary Art campus to downtown North Adams.
Have they changed over time?
The engagement of professional artist Bill Oberst with students introduced a mentoring aspect to the project.
Additional murals on columns opposite the original six are now being planned.
Who are the project partners and stakeholders?
Art About Town
City of North Adams Mayor Richard Alcombright
North Adams Public Schools, students and art teacher Christina King
Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts
Artist Bill Oberst
Community Volunteers
Project Specifics
How was the project implemented? What were the steps taken?
1. Gathered and images of historic Arnold Printworks dolls.
2. Presented idea of painting murals on the underpass columns to North Adams Mayor Dick Alcombright.
3. Gathered support and input from Mass College of Liberal Arts and local artists.
4. Middle school students researched images and selected the dolls to be painted.
5. Volunteers were enlisted.
6. Images of dolls were photoshopped onto photographs of the columns to help design the project.
7. Students enlarged and transferred drawings to the columns by pouncing.
8. Images were painted over the course of the summer.
9. Paintings were sealed with anti-grafitti coating.
10.Coordinated the unveiling of the murals and installation of a historical plaque.
Have they been refined over time?
Prior to the second set of murals:

1. Research transfer techniques.
2. Conduct a test of the anti-grafitti sealant before application.
3. Use the photoshopped images of dolls on columns as a promotional tool.
4. Provide printed material to artists working on the project to distribute to interested passersby.
What were your major obstacles?
Getting site permission to paint on elements of a state highway.
Getting clearance for adult volunteers working with minors. (CORI)
Who or what was instrumental in overcoming these obstacles?
Mayor Richard Alcombright - City of North Adams - North Adams City Schools
What top three suggestions would you give to others attempting a similar project?
1. Provide as clear a visual of the final project as possible to potential supporters. Photoshop is a great tool to use for this.
2. When using students and other volunteers, site location is extremely important. If you can, choose ground-level projects in safe areas.
3. Allow for at least twice as much time as estimated for completion of a public mural and consider school and community calendars to avoid scheduling conflicts.
Project Impact
How has this project contributed to creative community building?
Generated interest from the public school system in creating more public art.
Boosted volunteerism for other Art About Town projects and generated new ideas for projects.
The plaque, with a QR code included, is an important element to inform and educate the casual viewer about the project, the organization, and the historical context.
Why do you consider the project successful, as related to your project goals above?
The mural reflects the city's heritage, diversity and character by virtue of its imagery and proximity to the original site of Arnold Printworks (now the Mass MoCA campus).
Connected artists, community members and businesses in the creative process by engaging local talent and sponsorship.
Revitalized the landscape by providing visual and historical interest in an otherwise unappealing walkway.
Visually connects the Mass Museum of Contemporary Art campus to downtown North Adams by linking the art of the city's past to the site of a contemporary art museum.
Were there unexpected impacts?
1. Increased volunteerism.
2. Potential for new collaborative relationships.