Published October 30, 2020


BOSTON-BASED ARTIST SILVIA LOPEZ CHAVEZ works on a mural she painted on the exterior of Melrose High School. (Dominic Chavez Photo)

MELROSE — The painting of a mural designed by Boston-based artist Silvia Lopez Chavez will be “unveiled” early in November at Melrose High School.

The mural is a bold, eye-popping painting made possible, in part, by a $70,000 grant secured by Mayor Paul Brodeur when he served as State Representative. A big thank you goes to Arts Administrator and project volunteer Lenore Gauthier Smith and a team of artists and community members who also worked hard on the project.

Gauthier Smith said she has heard nothing but positive feedback from the community since the mural painting began.

“The students are inspired, and the high school administration and staff members walk by and smile at the progress, with most sharing their excitement and appreciation,” Gauthier Smith said, adding that after school finishes for the day, pedestrians often stop by for a closer look and express their joy about the mural.

“It’s been an amazing and fulfilling experience to be part of an art project that spreads happiness in our community during these unsettled times as well as having the mural contribute to Melrose’s commitment to investing in artists and our cultural assets,” noted Gauthier Smith, a Melrose resident.

The city-wide unveiling titled “Celebrating Public Art in Melrose” will take place on Saturday, Nov. 7, from 11 a.m.-2 p.m. (rain date Sunday, Nov. 8) not only to celebrate in a safe, physically distant way for students and the community but to also recognize the other public art installations in and around Melrose funded by the city’s public art initiative. A map will be available soon.

The high school’s new mural got its start with Gauthier Smith when her children were students at MHS.

“The school was a part of my family’s life for nine years, and I have nothing but great things to say about the educational experience they received,” she said. “The facilities needed work, but many interior projects were completed, which helped guide students through their academic development.”

During the time when Gauthier Smith’s youngest child attended classes at the high school, and after the interior renovations, she often thought about ways the exterior of the school could be improved.

“That’s when I landed on the idea for a mural idea,” she said.

Through her graduate work, Smith developed her idea and spent part of a semester writing a research paper about public art and developing and writing about the high school mural project and making a presentation to her peers and professor at Boston University. As part of her coursework, Smith reached out to Lopez Chavez in April 2019.

“I envisioned a student-engaged mural for the high school and wanted to begin formulating a project plan for both the course and for real-life application,” she said, adding that she thought Lopez Chavez would be the ideal artist for the project.

“Silvia and I were on the same page and what she had in mind was exactly what I had envisioned —having students participate in the design of a mural,” she said. “This opportunity would be so meaningful and impactful in their lives. It’s all about experiences, right?”

As a bonus, a project such as this would not only benefit the students involved but also the broader high school and Melrose community.

“I had been hoping that Melrose would join other culturally active communities by engaging local artists in creating public art,” Gauthier Smith said. “This partnership would do both and be a win-win.”

The vision was beginning to take shape early in 2020 when coincidentally the City of Melrose received state funding for a Wayfinding and Creative Placemaking Initiative. With its subsequent Call-for-Art, an opportunity presented itself, so Gauthier Smith reconnected with López Chavez.

“We agreed to be co-applicants and pursue this exciting opportunity to make a student-designed mural a reality by submitting an application. In August, our proposal was accepted and a grant was awarded for the installation of the mural on the high school,” she explained.

In addition to the placemaking award from the City of Melrose, funds were needed to fully fund the project, so Gauthier Smith completed applications and was awarded funds from Melrose Messina Fund for the Arts, the Melrose Rotary and the Victoria McLaughlin Foundation.

As a result of virtual meetings with the student design team (14 students registered to participate), as well as MHS art teacher Danielle Membrino, Lopez Chavez and Gauthier Smith, the students submitted ideas, inspirations and thoughts as to what they envisioned and hoped to convey in a mural design concept.

Lopez Chavez’s interpretation of the student ideas led her to the concepts of “a strong supportive community, nurturing growth, care and belonging while creating paths to a brighter future,” said Gauthier Smith.

This inspired Lopez Chavez to create a mural sketch incorporating these concepts. She presented it to the student design team during a virtual meeting in September, and when the students said they loved it, it was enthusiastically approved.

Gauthier Smith wanted Weekly News readers to know that, unfortunately, students are not participating in painting the mural because of the coronavirus pandemic.

“We have offered other opportunities to the students, however, to volunteer at the mural site after school to discuss the project with students, staff and pedestrians while masked and physically distant,” she said.

In addition to the high school mural, the work of eight other artists is on display throughout Melrose, including on utility (electrical) boxes in various locations along Main Street and a dragon sculpture, walking poetry and miniature art gallery.

In addition to Lopez Chavez, the artists include Sheila Farren Billings, April Jakubec Duggal, Adria Arch, Jessie Brown, John Pegoraro, David Winkler, Catie Nasser, Sagie Vangelina and Lisa Tiemann.

The creative work is featured as part of the City’s Wayfinding and Creative Placemaking Initiative and the Office of Planning and Community Development, in partnership with Follow Your Art Community Studios. Various members of the team worked with the Massachusetts Marketing Partnership and Massachusetts Office of Travel and Tourism to develop a wayfinding system for the city.

They are: Jonah Chiarenza, Pedestrian and Bicycle Advisory Committee; Lorrie DiCesare, Hourglass Gifts and Gallery; Joy Fay, Joy Yoga; Denise Gaffey, Office of Planning and Community Development; Lenore Gauthier Smith, Community Member; Lauren Grymek, Melrose Chamber of Commerce; Patrick Prendergast, Mayor Brodeur’s chief of staff; Elena Proakis Ellis, Department of Public Works; Kris Rodolico, Follow Your Art Community Studios; Emma Schnur, Office of Planning and Community Development; and Kara Showers, Mass in Motion coordinator.

Said Gauthier Smith about the group, “They were comprised of members across different segments of our community, including the city’s Office of Planning and Community Development, which awarded this grant and issued the contract to Lopez Chavez, high school administration team members and community members active in the city’s art community.

“Their mission was not to generate additional ideas, as it would no longer be a student design,” said Gauthier Smith.

“The group review was critical, however, to ensure that it was not offending, missing or including elements that may appear problematic to the public and to flag any major concerns,” Gauthier Smith continued. “There were no concerns flagged. The stakeholder group response was overwhelming support and enthusiasm.”

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