When residents approached Hartford officials about the problem of unwanted art on bus shelters and utility boxes, Janice Castle, the city’s director of community engagement, saw an opportunity.
“We thought, OK, a great way to address it is to solicit art and give opportunities to local artists who can provide art that is representative of the community,” Castle said.
Love partnered with Hartford-based artist Andre Rochester in creating the “hARTford Love” mural project, an initiative that has 30 city artists installing art on nine bus shelters and 24 electrical boxes along Upper Albany and Clay Arsenal neighborhoods.
Mayor Luke Bronin, Castle, Rochester and several artists were on hand outside the bus shelter outside the Albany branch of the Hartford Library Thursdayto officially recognize the installations.
“We are so blessed to have in this city so many artists, so many painters, so many musicians, so many dancers, so many creators of all kinds,” Bronin said. “And as we work together to recover what we’ve been through the past couple of years, to celebrate our community, to bring people together, we also want to lift up those creators, to lift up those artists and give our community the chance to share in the beauty that they create.”
The art adds to the larger effort to revitalize Albany Avenue with numerous developments, Bronin said, which includes the renovation of the North-West School as an expanded part of the library.
“We see this as the beginning, not the complete project,” Bronin said. “We’d like to see this all over our city. But what a great way to start, all the way up and down the avenue with 33 art installations on bus shelters [and] utility boxes, giving us a chance to share and celebrate the beauty that’s created by artists in our community. We’re so proud we get to display your work and we’re so glad that we’re able to support you in that work at the same time.”
The artists were selected in March from a pool of 60 applicants and range from a 7-year-old to community leaders who have lived in Hartford for years.
The artists, according to Rochester, are of varying skills and include photographers, painters, poets, and people who work with mixed media.
Rochester highlighted Brooklyn Backman, the 7-year-old who will have his art displayed on a utility box later this month.
“He has an opportunity a lot of adults don’t get to do,” Rochester said. “ … This is what it’s all about. Involving people who are young and giving them the opportunity to do something that they might not have been able to imagine at this point in time. Being able to inspire somebody to do something big like this at such a young age, I hope he never forgets this.”
Rochester said the artists have an opportunity to have their work seen by thousands of people who travel the Albany Avenue corridor every day.
“They’re not just simple objects,” Rochester said of the artwork. “These are things people interact with on a daily basis. … For me to be a part of creating this opportunity for so many artists, so many of my peers to participate in something like this, it really does mean the world to me.”
Two shelters near the library branch share colorful, upbeat messages.
One, just outside the library, stresses the importance of education, with a young boy who has books stacked on top of his head, and two thought bubbles emanating from his head. One thought shows a picture of what appears to be a doctor, with the inscription beneath, “The world needs you.” The other thought bubble shows a picture of an astronaut with the caption, “Hold on to your dreams!”
The bus shelter painted by Andriena ‘Driena’ Baldwin near the corner of Albany and Woodland, exudes positive energy. A “Juneteenth – One Love” message is painted on the outside. Inside the shelter, Baldwin painted a girl holding a sign that says, “In a world where you can be anything, be: intelligent, respectful, caring, driven, kind, unique, confident, patient, honest, brave, humble, generous, peaceful, resilient. Be you!”
Next to her, Baldwin painted a boy holding a tearsheet that says “Take what you need.” Beneath that message. the tearsheets say, “hugs, love, support, motivation, positivity, opportunity, education, encouragement, therapy.”
“As we know, Hartford has been going through a lot, as is the rest of the world with the pandemic and the violence that is happening,” Baldwin said. “I wanted to encourage residents to tap into their skills, to be positive, to build character and to be positive … people in the community.”
Ted Glanzer can be reached at email@example.com.