Unveiled Canal Mural Champions Women

Thomas Breen photoOne day after a judge accused of sexual assault ascended to the nation’s highest court, a local painter unveiled a mural depicting 17 actual and imaginary New Haven women, all standing proud and strong and committed to a more equitable future.

That was the result of Wednesday morning’s joy-filled, sun-dappled press event on the Farmington Canal trail near the New Haven-Hamden border, where artist Kwadwo Adae joined over 100 supporters, community activists, and Newhallville neighbors to celebrate his recently finished Women’s Empowerment Mural.

Adae wanted to bring to his art some of the strength, diversity, resilience, and unity of today’s women’s rights movement after attending the first women’s march in New York City nearly two years ago.

“We can’t continue with the status quo if half our population doesn’t feel safe,” Adae said. “Me as a man, I’m trying to set an example of intersectionality. You don’t need to be a woman to fight for women’s rights. You don’t need to be a person of color to fight against racism.”

The mural, which Adae started painting on June 4 with the help of assistant Toni Giammona, stretches across an 18-by-106-foot brick wall on the side of Tri-Con Construction Managers LLC’s offices at 400 Goodrich St.

Adae, who has run the Adae Fine Arts Academy on Chapel Street for 13 years, created another public mural on the Farmington Canal trail two years ago. Over 150 community volunteers wound up contributing to the painting of the mural over the course of the past five months.

The mural itself depicts 17 women and girls, all of different race, age, nationality, dress, profession, and body type, All stand with confidence and authority as they stare out at the pedestrian and bike path and hold high a flaming torch a la the Statue of Liberty.

Some of the female representations are inspired by New Havener community icons such as Stetson Branch librarian Diane Brown and Newhallville parent-teacher organization (PTO) stalwart Flo Caldwell. Some are inspired by women who have had a profound impact on Adae’s own life, such as his sister Nana and his hematologist Joanna.

And some are products of his imagination, a blue-bobbed transgender woman and an elderly Latina abuela who leans with her right hand on a cane, propelling her torch-bearing left-hand all the higher.

The mural was funded by a $12,000 grant from the Connecticut Office of the Arts with additional financial support from the outdoor apparel store REI, the Graustein Memorial Fund, the Newhallville Safe Neighborhood Initiative, Neighborhood Housing Services, the Yale Office of New Haven and State Affairs, and the Farmington Canal Rail-to-Trail Association.

“We want you to be able to walk into art,” said Lisa Fernandez, the president of the Farmington Canal Rail-to-Trail Association. “To bike into art. To blade into art. To jog into art. The vision here is to create an arts corridor in the New Haven section of the trail.”

She said that her organization estimates that 100,000 people will cross the section of the trail that the mural looks out on this year, and that that number may only increase now that the pedestrian-bike path is continuous for 25 miles between New Haven and Southington.

A cavalry of local politicians came out to herald the unveiling of the mural, to praise Adae for his artistry and community engagement, and to celebrate the women’s empowerment message.

“I like to think about women as the first civilizers,” Mayor Toni Harp said. “The men went out. They hunted. They gathered. But the women stayed home, took care of the children, and built community.”

Newhallville State Rep. Robyn Porter, Newhallville Alder Delphine Clyburn, and Hamden City Councilman Justin Farmer all thanked Adae for bringing such a bright, positive, and inspiring message to the neighborhood.

“This community and so many others need healing right now,” Porter said. “We need to get back to being a village. This wall represents to me the village” the love, the healing, the restoration that we need in order to get ahead.”

“Thank you for bringing this river of life to us and this neighborhood,” Clyburn added.

Adae said that the unveiling of the mural on the heels of the Brett Kavanaugh confirmation hearings is a testament to how the fight for women’s rights is far from over, and doesn’t always move in a straight line of progress. After all, the mural idea was born nearly two years ago during a nationwide protest against the election of President Donald Trump, who has been accused of sexual assault by over a dozen women.

“When we see injustices happen,” Adae said, “when we see oppression happening, we can change things, just like we changed this wall. It’s the same process.”

The brick wall facing the canal trail used to be painted blue, covered in graffiti, and hidden behind overgrown weeds. All that was needed to transform that public canvas into the women’s empowerment mural, Adae said, were 17 gallons of primers, thousands of dollars of paint, and the patient and attentive support of 150 community volunteers who took time out of their days and nights to create something beautiful together.

“This is an example of unity and what unity can do,” he said. “This mural is for you. This mural is for me. This is our artwork.”

Click on the Facebook Live video below to watch the full press conference and unveiling of the Women’s Empowerment Mural.

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posted by: Bill Saunders on October 10, 2018  2:33pm

If this mural was ‘really’ about ‘women’s empowerment’, women would have created the mural themselves, rather than paying a man to do it, who takes the ultimate ‘credit’. 

Only in New Haven folks…. the holes in the fabric just ‘shine’ right through!

posted by: Noteworthy on October 10, 2018  2:47pm

This is. Mayor Toni Harp is at this mural and City Hall is being investigated for corruption according to WTNH. The Deputy Chief of Staff resigns abruptly after her credit card is abused while she’s gone; the woman who allegedly stole city money is arrested; a firefighter overdoses on Woodward Avenue and has to be revived on Narcan - and the city is running chronic deficits with no financial controls - case in point the two years of credit card receipts for Dunkin Doughnuts, brazilian food, flights, trips and five star hotels; truffle butter and steaks - limos and chauffeurs.

This is a freak show.

posted by: nhs_ofnewhaven on October 10, 2018  2:56pm

Simply put, this is a wonderful example of New Haven at its finest. Not only is Kwadwo’s artwork beautiful, but the spirit embodied in this mural is everything that New Haveners hold dear in terms of our values and our principles. We should be collectively proud of this project and all of the many volunteers and organizations that contributed to the success of today’s event. In a time of extreme political divisiveness, rancor, and anger, this mural is a testament to all that brings us together as one united people.

I am so proud of the role that Neighborhood Housing Services of New Haven played in bringing about this vibrant and inspiring mural and being part of this wonderful collaborative venture.

Jim Paley

posted by: wendy1 on October 10, 2018  3:01pm

This eye-catching mural adds a zing to the bike trail which I hope more folks use in the future.  Thanks to Tri-con and the artist.

posted by: 06511 on October 10, 2018  4:55pm

Bill Saunders:

Wait: you, trashing a local public art project? I am astonished.

I also can’t believe that, in so trashing this project, you neither offer any rebuttal to the artist’s conjecture that “You don’t need to be a woman to fight for women’s rights. You don’t need to be a person of color to fight against racism,” nor do you acknowledge the fact that the mural is the product of 150 community volunteers, many of whom ARE women.

It’s really just beyond belief.

posted by: Bill Saunders on October 10, 2018  7:54pm


Start to understand ‘the nuance’ with ‘this stuff’.  It ain’t just a ‘feel good’ headline, or a genuine ‘voice’.
Any artist can do what they want to express themselves in the public realm, at their own peril.

The minute quasi-public money and resources become involved, the ‘art project’ needs to be ‘judged’ differently.
Politics are involved! That is certainly the case here….

If ever there was a useful use of the word’s “Women’s Work”, this project should have been it!

posted by: LookOut on October 10, 2018  9:20pm

Why is Toni Harp in Hamden while the FBI is digging into a “larger New Haven City Hall corruption probe”.  Where is the leadership?


posted by: Newhavengran on October 11, 2018  7:54am

for $12000+ commission and career advancement, I’d fight for women’s rights too-

If a white artist designed and profited from a black empowerment mural, this message board would look a lot different.

How did something so tone deaf make it past any legitimate vetting process?

Another Mayor Harp endorsed public art project, did she buy everyone lunch too?

posted by: Bill Saunders on October 11, 2018  1:32pm

NH Gran,

Brett Kavanaugh and Clarence Thomas put in an ‘application’ for this project, but they were already too busy Empowering Women on ‘their own terms’....