CUMB mural ws

Susan Joseph, left, director of the New England Humane Society, and Joanna Vespia, the artist who created the mural behind them, along with Vespia’s dog, Sophia, who is pictured in the mural, stand outside the Humane Society, 44 Martin St. in Cumberland, last Saturday. Vespia started and finished the project, which is part of The Avenue Concept’s 2020 Mural Program, last week. (Breeze photo by Melanie Thibeault)

CUMBERLAND – Wanting to show the community that there’s new energy at the former Cumberland Animal Control building, Susan Joseph commissioned a mural featuring a collage of animals on the wall facing the Berkeley Oval baseball field, which was completed this past weekend.

“This building is something I want to be really, really special for the community,” Joseph, director of the New England Humane Society, told The Valley Breeze.

Because the facility has been in town for so long, Joseph said it’s “really important for us for people in the community to know that there’s totally new energy here,” including hope, happiness, and the healing of animals.

The nonprofit, at 44 Martin St. in Cumberland, is housed at the former Cumberland Animal Control building, located between the baseball field and Berkeley Mill. Joseph, who entered into a lease agreement with the town in December, said she’s planning to open it this September and noted that the town has given her “complete creative control.”

The mural, painted by Coventry-based artist Joanna Vespia, is one of a handful of public art pieces that’s part of The Avenue Concept’s 2020 Mural Program, and is the Providence-based nonprofit public arts organization’s first mural in Cumberland. It consists of a collage of six dogs and one cat, all with connections to either the Humane Society or folks involved in the project.

The project is financed by the shelter and the paint is sponsored by Adler’s Design Center & Hardware in Providence. Vespia started working on the mural last week, wrapping up last Saturday morning.

Earlier this year Joseph, who says she loves the murals in downtown Providence, reached out to staff at The Avenue Concept asking if they could help facilitate a mural at her site.

“Everyone at The Avenue Concept are animal lovers,” said Mural Program Manager Nick Platzer, so they were 100 percent on board with the project. They connected Joseph with Vespia who paints pet portraits as a side gig to her full-time job as a graphic designer.

“One of the things that made this project special … is that all of the animals on the wall have a story,” said Vespia, who noted that with rescue pets of her own, this cause is close to her heart.

Among the animals featured in the collage are Lilo, Joseph’s dog; Vespia’s cat, Momo, and her dogs, Carmela and Sophia; Kaia, a dog currently up for adoption; Moose, a dog that was adopted from the Humane Society and recently died in a fire in Scituate; and Avenue Concept founder Yarrow Thorne’s dog Annie, who recently died.

“They literally put our organization on our wall,” Joseph said. “They’ve done an amazing job. I’m just so grateful. … The wall has so much more meaning to so many people at the end of the day.”

The new mural symbolizes happiness, which is how Joseph says she wants people to feel when they come to the animal welfare facility.

Vespia said her mural is fun and lighthearted and hopes that it might inspire people to check out the facility and adopt an animal. “I hope it brings extra positive attention to the work they’re doing here,” she said.

After painting the wall blue, she sketched her design before beginning to paint. While she creates pet portraits using oil paint on small canvases, Vespia said this was her first bigger commissioned piece.

“The whole concept is about getting more art into the public,” Platzer said of the mural program. “Public art never closes,” he said, which is especially relevant given the many closures during the ongoing coronavirus crisis. “It’s a great excuse to get out and see art.”

The Avenue Concept, which is known for its big murals on buildings in downtown Providence, had bigger plans this summer to create 80-foot to 100-foot murals but because of the ongoing health crisis, it has scaled back to doing more smaller murals with local artists, Platzer explained.

“We were excited that Susan reached out,” he said. “We want to expand our footprint outside of Providence.”

For more about The Avenue Concept’s mural program, visit or check out their social media accounts. To see more of Vespia’s work, check out her Instagram @petportraitsbyjoanna .

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