Woonsocket’s ‘Faces’ artwork draws reactions

Woonsocket’s ‘Faces’ artwork draws reactions

Woonsocket City Councilor Garrett Mancieri stands beside his portrait, wheat pasted on a wall in a parking lot across from City Hall. (Breeze photos by Sandy Seoane)
Completed art project enhances city streets

WOONSOCKET – Ellie Brown had hoped to show off the city’s diversity and help to build community through “Faces of Woonsocket,” an independent art project started earlier this year.

Judging by reactions this week, the artist, who came to the city through NeighborWorks Blackstone River Valley’s Community Builders in Residence program, has not only achieved her goal, but has also drawn attention to the value of public art through her work.

Along Cass Avenue, East School Street and Main Street, 100 of Brown’s 30-by-50-inch black and white portraits smile down at passers by. The wheat-pasted photographs show residents of varying ages and nationalities, and undeniably, attract plenty of attention.

“It’s engaging. It makes you want to know more about the people,” said Vincent Mendez as he looked at Brown’s work on a wall across from City Hall Friday afternoon. “It’s awesome. It definitely helps to bring out a different light for the city. I think it helps the image, definitely. We’re very diverse.”

“We need more stuff like this,” Mendez added.

Residents like Mendez could be seen stopping at all three locations throughout the week, gazing up at the unique art.

The project was inspired by a similar effort by French street artist “JR” titled “Inside Out,” and like JR, Brown aimed to have each portrait convey something about the model’s personality. On their hands, participants wrote numbers representing their time in Woonsocket, with some choosing to display the year when they arrived, while others wrote how long they’ve lived in the city.

“She really encouraged us to step a little outside of our comfort zone,” said City Councilor Melissa Murray, who volunteered to be photographed along with her father. “I’m notorious for not wanting to have my picture taken, but I believe in this project so I agreed to it.”

Murray wrote two numbers on her hands, representing the times before and after she moved away from the city.

“I felt like they were two very distinct parts of my life,” she said. “Each picture tells a story.”

Councilor Garrett Mancieri wrote the number “13,” to represent his time in the city, and noted that it’s a symbolic number for his family that seems to appear often since the death of his grandmother.

Mancieri was first elected to city government in 2013.

“I think it’s important the elected officials are up there too,” Mancieri said. “I always try to think of people as the same and equals and I think that is what this represents.”

Mancieri noted that virtually anyone who lives in the city could find someone they know in the photos.

“In Woonsocket, we are very connected for a city of 40,000,” he said.

“It really does make an impression,” he added. “We want people to feel like this is their community.”

Other participants included Mayor Lisa Baldell-Hunt and former School Committee member Vimala Phongsavanh.

But the vast majority were not government officials, but rather, every day people.

“I live here and I work here, so I felt I was a good candidate to be one of the 100,” said resident Jason Phaneuf, who’s portrait hangs on East School Street. “I felt like I was part of Woonsocket with the volunteer work I did last year and the year before.”

Upon seeing the outcome, Phaneuf said, “I like it. It’s nice. It definitely shows a diversity of people.”

Brown said that she went into the project seeking participants of various backgrounds without expectations.

“I had some idea of the diversity I wanted to display, but didn’t know how that would look until I actually met and photographed all of the people.

The biggest surprise, she said, came during her first shoot at Woonsocket Harris Public Library.

“I approached a man and asked him if I could take his photo. He asked me why I would want to, because he was homeless, as if that disqualified him as a human here,” Brown said. “That was a big emotional surprise.”

The portraits are expected to remain up until fall, or until they begin to look shabby, according to Brown.

Mayor Lisa Baldelli-Hunt said that the eye-catching display is the type of artwork the city needs more of.

“It creates conversation, it generates interest and it stirs up activity,” she said. “Woonsocket is behind in the arts.”

Murray cited the project as an example of how a simple, low cost idea could have a high impact.

“It’s doing exactly what it’s intended to do,” Murray said. “I think people vastly underestimate the power of public art. It can build the economy and foster a sense of community.”

Murray added, “I hope this sends a message to other artists that are out there that we are willing to support them.”

Councilor Melissa Murray stands with her portrait across from City Hall.
Woonsocket resident Jason Phaneuf stands with his portrait on East School Street.

Comments

to be perfecly honest it is no tomas kinkade but it is good to dress the area up. thank you

god bless!

to be perfecly honest it is no tomas kinkade but it is good to dress the area up. thank you

god bless!