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Artists set to paint murals as West Hartford’s outdoor dining kicks off

WEST HARTFORD — The concrete barriers are placed and the town’s expanded outdoor dining program has begun.

And soon, those barriers, which became a staple of West Hartford’s dining scene during the COVID-19 pandemic, will be spruced up with outdoor murals painted by local artists through the West Hartford Art League.

Diners were enjoying that extra space already on Thursday afternoon. The barriers allow along LaSalle Road and Farmington Avenue in West Hartford Center to put tables in the street restaurants and in parking spaces. Barriers were also placed in Blue Back Square.

In March, Gov. Ned Lamont visited West Hartford to announce that the state would be extending rules that made this kind of outdoor seating easier for restaurants to implement. The town will soon take on making that a permanent fixture in town.

On May 15, artists will take to the streets in Blue Back Square to paint their murals on the blank canvases. On May 22, artists chosen for the West Hartford Center barriers will do their work. In both cases, the specific streets will be closed to vehicles from 6 am to 2 pm while the artists work, but the Art League encourages pedestrians to visit and watch the artists paint.

West Hartford resident Lindsey Schmucker, who just finished her third year at Florida State University where she’s studying studio art, was one of the artists chosen for the project. She will be painting a barrier outside Vinted Wine Bar in Blue Back Square.

“I was driving downtown last year and I saw that they had painted all of these,” said Schmucker, who works at the Claypen art studio on Farmington Avenue, right next to one such barrier. “I would have loved to do that.”

Schmucker, who as a kid took classes with the Art League, decided to apply this year, and was thrilled to be chosen. Public art, she said, is something she’s always found satisfying.

“At the Claypen I had painted the windows there for murals for the winter and summer,” Schmucker said. “I have found so much joy in doing that. It’s given me a way to connect with people. When I’m painting inside the Claypen or a studio, not as many people see that. The barriers give me a chance to get my name out there and connect with people.”

Schmucker said she’s excited to paint while the public passes by, and said a thumbs up or friendly words of encouragement go a long way for an artist and their confidence.

“It’s honestly my favorite part,” Schmucker said. “There’s been times I’ve been painting the murals and people walk by and they give me a thumbs up or they take a picture. It’s the little things like that. The little words of encouragement.”

West Hartford resident York Mgbejume is one of the youngest artists selected for the project. The 17-year-old senior at the Greater Hartford Academy of the Arts plans on studying graphic design in college.

“Drawing is something I’ve always wanted to be able to do and something I’ve aspired to be good at,” he said. “I really focused on that. I found something that challenges my analytical mind. Personally, art is really technical for me. I take hours on it. I’m really focused on every inch and every detail and line.”

Mgbejume is a newer artist, having just recently discovered his love for drawing. He’s done murals in his school from him, but never anything as public as this. He will be painting his mural of him on a barrier in front of Restaurant Bricco.

“It’s definitely going to be really different from what I’m used to,” Mgbejume said. “I have public work and a lot of people have seen it at school and at galleries and things. It’s definitely going to be different working in public and being outside. Seeing my work in a public area is definitely going to be wild, especially for the first time.”

Kelly O’Donovan, a West Hartford native and longtime resident, was also chosen to paint a mural. Her work by her will be found outside of Union Kitchen, Wurst Haus and Àvert Brasserie.

Like Schmucker, she also took classes with the Art League when she was younger. She said this was a chance to do something positive for the community.

“I’ve always been drawn to help represent and share art in a local community,” O’Donovan said. “The art barrier project was a prime example of that. The idea of ​​art meeting life, it’s not everyday that there’s an opportunity to collaborate with the town of West Hartford. It’s great. We’ve turned COVID into something positive by having local artists participate in this project and come together to bring energy to West Hartford.”

Her mural, she said, is a decorative floral pattern she hopes will match the area.

“I chose that just because West Hartford Center is very upbeat,” O’Donovan said. “I wanted to echo that energy and express an eagerness for summer. I picked vibrant colors that reflected that feel.”

O’Donovan and the other artists all said they’re eager to have their art in place this spring, summer and parts of the fall before the barriers are removed in the winter.

“It’s really rewarding,” O’Donovan said. “I’ve always created art, but this is the first time it will be publicly viewable for a long period of time outside of an exhibition space.”

The artists were chosen by a jury that included Roxanne Stachelek, the Art League’s director, as well as Rob Loebel and Ed Johnetta Miller. Other artists selected for the project include Sneh Detroja, Brian Colbath, Michael Borders, Wing Na Wong, Annie Hayami, Samuel Ferri, Stella Guggina, Naiya Gonzalez-Breen, Yvonne Espinoza, Stefania Munzi-Logus, Julia Fahey, Kiley Mattsson, Beth Reynolds and Drew Unikewicz.

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