And The Winner Is ...

Hi CrewTa da!

Bright Big Wall.

That’s the name, at least for now, of the colorful, graffiti-esque collaborative mural that will enliven the Humphrey Street underpass beneath I-91 and connect the Jocelyn Square and East Rock neighborhoods.

The project, created by the collaborative team of Damian Paglia, Alberto Colon, the guys from Hi Crew and all brought together by local graffiti eminence Dooley, won the commission in a close neighborhood vote for what art work should liven the concrete wasteland underneath the highway.

The results were announced Wednesday night at Madden’s Gastropub (the former Humphrey’s) off Jocelyn Square Park.

Click here for an article about the canvassing that took place to involve the community in narrowing the field of artists, and to see provisional proposals of the work of Paglia, Colon and the Hi Crew guys as well as the other four finalists.

The Under 91 Project derives from Inside Out Project, which in 2012 pasted poster-sized black and white portraits along the walls of the Humphrey Street underpass as well as the State Street underpass near Trumbull Street.

That temporary, crowd-sourced art project had the same mission as Under 91: to use art to reclaim the uninviting concrete passageways as neighborhood connectors, rather than dividers.

At Wednesday night’s gathering, Boris Sigal, one of the project’s organizers, said the Paglia/Colon/ Hi Crew collaborative of artists won the most of the 720 votes cast.

Of these 120 were cast in person and 600 online. “The vote was very close,” said Sigal, who recently graduated from the Yale School of Management and has been helping with the Under 91 Project website and a indiegogo campaign, which organizers hope to use to raise the $15,000 for the project.

Two members of Hi Crew (pictured)—Ryan Christensen and Mike (he preferred to give no last name)—were in attendance, along with a dozen other neighbors, including East Rock Alder Jessica Holmes and state Rep. Roland Lemar.

Christiansen said he was “very excited” about the project when he received the news. Normally Hi Crew members request permission from, say, a business-owner to use his wall. This project is the first where he and his colleagues have been democratically elected, or commissioned, to create a work.

The team has done many murals, up to about 40 feet, so the size of the smaller Humphrey Street underpass will not be daunting, Christiansen said.

“We do stuff like this all the time,” added Mike.

Aicha Woods estimated that the cost will be approximately $15,000. About $6,000 is in hand; the balance is to be raised through Indiegogo and other sources, said Sigal.

The money will go to artists’ compensation, paint, cleaning, and a small fund for maintenance, said Sigal.

Since Paglia, Colon, and Hi Crew all submitted images of how they’d fill up the whole tunnel area, they now have to figure out how to divide up the space among, in effect, three different artistic hands.

It was also not clear at the meeting if the artists should plan a program for walls on both sides of the street or start with just one wall. That was a question of funding.

But even if one, then which wall? The north or the south? Christiansen said he and the other artists selected are meeting later this week to work out such issues.

Artspace Executive Director Helen Kauder said even if only one wall is attempted at first—in the hope it will spawn additional bridges between the communities—a program for the whole space should be in place as a prompt for fundraising.

Lemar, who lives near the underpass, said he was at the meeting “to make sure the state is cooperative [with official permissions.] It’s all about their approving the project. If it were a highway, it’d be approved in 15 minutes. But a painting? Grrrrrrrrrrrrr.

If all goes well, especially with the fundraising, the composition will come together and painting begin by late June, with the work expected to be completed by Labor Day, said Sigal.

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posted by: Stylo on May 29, 2014  10:00am

How about they do it minus the ghetto looking alien lettering?

posted by: Brian R on May 29, 2014  1:41pm

Congratulations to the Hi Cru! This will be a great complement to their Goonies mural on the Trolley Square building on Blatchley!  Can’t wait to see it.

posted by: BetweenTwoRocks on May 29, 2014  1:50pm

I think this was the right choice. It’s the most reflective of the neighborhood, I think, and the least likely to be vandalized. Congratulations to the winners!

posted by: Billy on May 30, 2014  12:17am

Does anyone know of any research about the effectiveness of these kinds of mural projects in actually bridging neighborhoods? While I appreciate the sentiment here, I wonder if it will actually have any effect. The previous project gave me some doubts, as the photos went from exciting to sad, frankly, as they decayed on the underpass walls.

Love the Goonies mural by the way. I stop to admire it, every time I ride over that bridge.

posted by: Gretchen Pritchard on May 30, 2014  9:49am

I’m with Stylo.  As an older White woman, I find this visual style—basically the visual analog of rap music—hideous and repellent, and I suspect many of my demographic feel the same way.  I have tried and tried to open my mind to this aspect of urban culture, and cannot do so.  This project is likely to be divisive, not unifying.

As for Billy’s concerns, perhaps the most practical, least discouraging approach is to regard these murals as temporary, and deliberately replace them, on a planned schedule, as they inevitably fade and are vandalized.  There’s very little outdoor art in a setting like that that isn’t going to degrade badly, even if it is respected; and an ongoing program of painting and re-painting with a new design would allow each design to be less fraught, would allow more diversity of designs, and (perhaps most valuably) would bring the community together repeatedly, to work together and share ideas and energy.