“You don’t need to go to a museum to appreciate art.”
If you visit Somerville, murals are plastered on every street corner and on business walls. Sidewalks are painted with vibrant colors and patterns. Art has played a pivotal role in the city for many years. The Somerville Arts Council created the Street Art Project in 2018, which allowed artists to paint murals in the city and showcase its diversity. Artists who have displayed their work in Somerville share the importance of art in public spaces and how it impacts the community.
Calo Rosa, a muralist who had his art featured in the city, grew up in El Salvador with a history of artists in his family. The Somerville Arts Council contacted Calo and asked him if he would be interested in painting a mural.
The mural features his friend surrounded by tropical plants. Rosa’s goal with his artwork is to highlight his culture and generate empathy with people from El Salvador. He often uses tropical flowers and the banana leaf in his art so that Salvadorian people can see a piece of them being represented.
“My idea is to recognize that where we’re from, it follows us,” Rosa said. “The beauty of those places follow us wherever we go, and we’re a part of it.”
Rosa said that art in public spaces has the ability to communicate with people in a way that language can’t always achieve.
“The potential of having art on the streets talks a lot about being able to communicate with your own community in a visual way,” Rosa explained. “You can say more things visually and with something that’s accessible. You don’t need to go to a museum to appreciate art.”
Rosa is currently discovering ways to create art that has less impact on the environment. He is working on creating a mural using only charcoal, and he practices tattoo work in addition to murals.
“The mural that I did in Somerville stays with the community,” Rosa said. “If I do a tattoo for somebody that’s really meaningful, it stays with the person.”
Although Rosa’s art is cultural, another muralist who featured his art in the city, uses a graphic style.
Michael Talbot, painted a mural outside of Deano’s Pasta in East Somerville. East Somerville Main Streets was looking for a mural proposal. Talbot applied to the Main Streets’ mural proposal, and his sketch was chosen for the pasta shop. His mural is a homage to the shop and their tradition of making homemade pasta.
“Art exists in many forms and can exist anywhere,” he explained. “Art in spaces helps people to take in more of the community and appreciate it.”
Talbot is currently working on his own graphic novel series; he hopes to finish the series and create a community around comics. Talbot wants his art to impact people in a powerful way.
“I don’t want to be famous,” Talbot said. “I want to be well-known. I want my art to speak volumes, more than me as the artist doing the speaking.”
Hala Matarazzo, owner of Deano’s Pasta said Talbot’s mural effectively represents the pasta shop.
“We love the mural and feel that it represents what we are about—hand crafted, high quality, fresh pastas made in small batches for chefs, specialty stores, farmer markets, and our customers that visit our Somerville pasta shop,” Matarazzo said.
Both Rosa and Talbot developed a love for art at an early age. Rosa grew up in a family who made a living through art, and Talbot shared that he also turned to art as a way to spend his time as a kid. Both artists want their art to mean something greater than themselves.
And it is not only murals that play a large role in the city’s art scene. The Somerville Arts Council posted a map of all the art in the city. The map includes 136 pieces of art. The murals are joined by various sculptures and paintings throughout the city. In East Somerville, there are 10 murals posted by East Somerville Main Streets, a program supported by the Somerville Arts Council.
Another artist who also believes that art can be impactful is Liz LaManche. She strives for her pieces to evoke emotion and connection with humanity.
As someone who has painted for a long time, LaManche considers art a part of her identity. She studied graphic design and architecture before she decided to pursue art.
Some of her pieces include a street painting, a stair mural, and a gateway.
She said that many people from the community have reached out to her to create art. Similar to what Talbot said about art being an expression of homage, LaManche shares that her car stairway painting was created in remembrance of an auto garage mechanic in Somerville who died.
“He was always a nice person in the community,” LaManche said.
Her art style relies on vibrant colors. She feels that murals are a way to lift people’s moods in the community and also learn more about people’s culture.
“I really love public art because it’s a way to impact people’s lives and be a part of the cultural discussion,” LaManche said. “It’s an important part of culture. It gives people an emotional lift, and it’s part of the way we talk to each other.”
This article was produced in partnership with Professor Gino Canella’s grassroots journalism class at Emerson College. It is syndicated by the MassWire news service of the Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism. If you want to see more reporting like this, make a contribution at givetobinj.org.