Students in the Department of Art and Design Give New Life to Township Mural Site Ravaged by Hurricane Sandy

New mural’s theme, “Responding to Family Violence,” pays tribute to a Montclair community organization that provides free legal help to victimized women and their children

Students in the Department of Art and Design put the finishing touches on a mural in downtown Montclair to replace an earlier mural the University had gifted to the township that had been damaged during Hurricane Sandy.

As some parts of the Jersey Shore unveiled their rebirth over the Memorial Day weekend from the damage caused by Hurricane Sandy, one of Montclair’s own casualties has also been revived. A Valley Road mural entitled “History of Montclair,” created in 2010 by students from Montclair State University’s Department of Art and Design, which had been destroyed during the storm last October, was replaced on May 29.

Created especially for the township, the new mural occupies the same wall between the Bamboo Asian Bistro and the Montclair Char Broil Diner, in the 600 block of Valley Road in Montclair, leading to the back public parking lot. 
 
As the original mural commemorated important events and people in Montclair's history, the new mural also drew inspiration from the Township and its people. It is dedicated to the good works performed by Montclair’s not-for-profit helping organizations based on a concept of Prof. Julie Heffernan, who lead the initial project destroyed by Sandy, to recognize local heroes.  Heffernan, who is currently on sabbatical from the University, gave the project over to Prof. Catherine Bebout to coordinate this spring.

Bebout says that the students researched several Montclair organizations and the one that stuck out for them was Partners for Women and Justice, an organization that provides free legal help to victimized women and their children.  After meeting the organization’s executive director Jane Hanson, the students decided to create its mural on the theme of “Responding to Family Violence.” Students Laken Whitecliffe (lead artist), along with Jeremy Bell, of Tampa, Fla., and Ariel Williams, of Howell, NJ, thus created the 35-by-8-foot mural entitled “Painting Adversity.”

Whitecliffe, who hails from Auckland, New Zealand, said the left-hand side of the mural illustrates images of abused children hidden within the shadowy areas of the brick façade to convey their vulnerability as victims of fear. The theme progresses to show how all of us can work together to overcome the obstacles as portrayed by the images on the right-hand side.  Whitechiffe went on to say that viewers of the mural should be able to glean its positive message.

“With the children on the right-hand side painted realistically and in color, to represent the community working together to paint over and erase this problem, I believe the imagery is a subtle but yet effective way to tell the narrative.”

He cited the location of the mural lended a context in that it is situated in a dark alley that students felt conceptually matched the subject matter, which is, oftentimes cloaked in a setting of neglect and secrecy; in other words, “hidden away in the back alleys of societies in Montclair [as well as] all over the world.”

Jane Hanson, executive director of Partners, said the organization is “honored to be the inspiration for this student project.

“When I met with the students to discuss their ideas, I was extremely impressed with their appreciation for, and understanding of, the impact that violence in the home has on innocent, defenseless children,” she said. "We commend the Montclair State students for their creative and effective advocacy on behalf of domestic violence victims and their children.”

The newly installed mural is a further outgrowth of the initial collaborative project involving not only Montclair State University, but also the former Montclair Arts Council, former Montclair Parking Authority, and the Upper Montclair Business District among various other entities and individuals. Linda Davidson, assistant dean of the University’s College of the Arts, said, “the idea for University students to create murals for Montclair goes back over a decade when it was initially proposed to the Township Municipality.  Thanks is still owed to Dale Jacobs of the former Montclair Arts Council for helping to move the idea forward, years later.” 

“Painting Adversity” is the third mural installed within the dedicated space. All the murals were presented as a gift by the University, with no costs to the Township. Bebout added, however, that the murals benefit not only Montclair and its residents, but also the students who created them.

“Mural collaborations of this scale are not easy from inception phase to execution and then to final installation,” explained Bebout. “From my perspective, public art projects such as this one offer our students multiple learning opportunities that extend beyond the classroom experience and, as emerging artists, a forum to present their work to a greater community audience than typically would be seen in a traditional exhibition venue.“

Davidson added that the College hopes to create more murals for Montclair and other municipalities adjacent to the University through such efforts on the part of Heffernan, Bebout and their students.  “We would love to display more works in the Township of Montclair as well as in Little Falls and Clifton.”

For more about the Montclair State University - Department of Art and Design’s Mural Project, including a history of the initiative and related articles, go to Montclair.edu/arts/mural.

 

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