Two buildings in Delaware now feature public art, the culmination of a year-long mural project for the city.
What is unique about the murals on the sides of the Second Ward Community Center, 50A Ross Street; and the Andrews House, 39 W. Winter St., is that they don’t depict a historic event from the city’s past. Instead, they use the images and words of current Delaware residents.
The result is a creative collaboration that celebrates the diversity and pride of community that makes the city a great place, among the qualities that people are now noticing on a national level.
Erin Fletcher, director of the Ross Art Museum at Ohio Wesleyan University, led the project. On the Sept. 20 edition of the “Delaware City Digest Show” on WDLR radio, she spoke about the impetus for the project. Fletcher said that the Ross Museum attracts 3,000 visitors a year, even though it’s free and open to the public.
“We have 34,000 people-plus, so I thought instead of trying to strong-arm people into coming to the museum, maybe we could take some art out and around the community, and let people enjoy art where they are,” Fletcher said. “If they are excited and want to see it in the museum, great. The city has talked about public art for a long time, and it’s in the master plan.”
She also thought it was important “to start a long conversation about what it means to have this beautiful community of Delaware, and who we want to be going forward into the future.”
Initially, the idea was to have the murals more in downtown Delaware. The side of the Strand Theatre facing the PNC Bank parking lot was considered, but timing issues this summer kept that from becoming a reality.
Fletcher thought the perfect person to bring the murals to fruition was California-based artist Brett Cook, whom she called “a socially-engaged artist who has worked all over the globe. One of the reasons we really wanted to bring him here was because he has such deep and extensive experience with communities and university campuses, and bridging that divide between the two.”
Cook, an educator whose projects have taken him from North Carolina to Nigeria, initially spoke to residents at the Ross during last year’s Delaware County Fair.
“The presumption (was) that the people who come to the Ross are the people we do the project with, but I had been here long enough to know … the diversity of Delaware wasn’t there,” Cook told “Delaware City Digest” host Lee Yoakum. “So I encouraged them to bring me back, and I spoke at Conger Elementary, Wesleyan again, Andrews House and the Second Ward as a way to kind of prime the pump. When I came again in the spring, we had workshops that included people that would never be in the same room together because of age, class, geography.”
Participants wrote, drew, took photos and thought about what it means to be in Delaware — in short, collaborating.
“What I did is to take the products people made in those workshops, and what is being installed is literally those products the people produced,” Cook said. “The images, the writings, the quotations are literally things lifted from the things people made in the workshops. So, it’s not about some individual artist taking their own privilege to make whatever they want to make, but it’s a collaboration where I use my expertise with the expertise of the people of this place to make something greater than I could make myself.”
Cook and two assistants installed one mural at the Andrews House from Sept. 15-18; and the other at the Second Ward Community Center from Sept. 19-22; working each day from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. with a lunch break. On that last day, Cook also spoke about the project at OWU’s Beeghly Library and shuttle bus tours were given to the sites.
With public art being more accessible and outwardly visible than what you might see in a gallery, more visitors may visit the city of Delaware.
“When people come to Delaware they’ll say this is the place that has those murals about collaboration, community, fellowship in a way that creates a new cultural idea about what this place represents,” Cook said. “It is my aspiration that after I leave, that those relationships continue over time.”
On a related note, residents can check out one of the murals on Saturday during the Second Ward Community Initiative’s 13th annual Unity Community Festival from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. at Ross Street Park, 50 Ross St.
For more information, visit https://www.owu.edu/about/outreach/ross-art-museum and www.brett-cook.com.
Gary Budzak may be reached at 740-413-0906 or on Twitter @GaryBudzak.