Officials push public art as new face of Pawtucket

Officials push public art as new face of Pawtucket

The Underwood Street overpass spanning I-95 is one of several bridges that could see new artwork as part of a city initiative for more public art. (Breeze photo by Ethan Shorey)

PAWTUCKET - City officials are pushing forward with projects designed to transform the city's public landscape into a canvas for artists.

The arts renaissance is alive and well in Pawtucket, said Dylan Zelazo, spokesman for Mayor Donald Grebien, but it's sometimes difficult for someone to tell when traveling along city streets.

Members of the state's federal delegation and representatives for the National Endowment for the Arts visited Pawtucket on Monday as part of a tour meant to highlight the arts as an economic development tool in the state.

NEA officials announced last month that Pawtucket would be receiving $75,000 in an "Our Town" grant for public art on city overpasses along I-95. City officials had sought $200,000 to $300,000 in funding, said Zelazo, but knew all along that such a chunk of money was a "long shot."

"To get anything was a huge win," he said.

The NEA funding will likely only fund one or two art projects on one or two overpass, said Zelazo, but the hope is that it will be the start of bringing Pawtucket's infrastructure more in line with its reputation for the arts.

"Through this and other initiatives, we're absolutely trying to get more public art in this city," said Zelazo. "Pawtucket is a fantastic art community and we need to build that visibility."

City officials announced in early July that they would be taking submissions for the new Pawtucket "PaintBox Project," an initiative to get artists to turn "typically bland" electric boxes into works of art. The submission deadline for proposals was last Friday.

Zelazo said that members of the Pawtucket Foundation and the new Arts Advisory Commission on Arts and Culture will play a big role in both the overpass art and the "PaintBox Project."

Backers of the overpass art project will look for local artists, design a plan of attack, and initiate the bidding process, said Zelazo. The review process will determine who will do the art and what sort of artwork is chosen for the overpass or overpasses.

Art is a "very subjective" field, said Zelazo, meaning getting input from all members of the arts panel will be key. Art is supposed to evoke an emotional response, he said, and that's the goal with the overpass art project.

Officials are hoping to match the $75,000 Our Town grant with another $75,000 from another source, said Zelazo, perhaps Community Development Block Grant funding. Once funds are determined and bids come in, officials will know how many overpasses can be transformed as works of art. Any and all art projects will need to be approved by the Department of Transportation, he said.

The overpass art is intended to be visible to both pedestrians and highway travelers.

The city, through the Department of Planning and Redevelopment, was successful in its application for an NEA Our Town grant for a project "to support the redesign of highway overpasses that connect Pawtucket's neighborhoods to the downtown."

Barney Heath, director of Planning and Redevelopment, said the city and its primary nonprofit partner for the application, the Pawtucket Arts Collaborative, will work with the seven-member Arts Advisory Commission on Arts and Culture.

Other project partners include XO+ Studios, a downtown-based nonprofit collaboration of artists and designers, the Pawtucket Citizens Development Corp., and Blackstone Valley Community Action Program, as well as the R.I. Department of Health and Pawtucket School Department.

NEA Chairman Jane Chu, who visited Pawtucket as part of Monday's tour, originally announced plans to award 66 Our Town grants totaling $5.073 million, reaching 38 states.

Public art on the Fairview Drive overpass in Carson City, Nevada.
An example of overpass art on Date Palmer Drive over Rte. 10 in Palm Springs, Calif.


This is a wonderful idea, however, how about Pawtucket puts some money into driving around and giving notice to the trash that lines our streets and some yards. Maybe if we start forcing people to clean up after themselves some beautiful art would be a benefit!

Decent art would look much nicer than concrete walls but in addition to art and trash pickup why not lower the car and property taxes so citizens would actually be able to afford Pawtucket and want to continue living here?