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Bringing Art to the People

Published Tuesday Aug 30, 2022

Author Judi Currie

Arts Build Community Artist David Maldonado works on a public art piece. (Courtesy of Arts Build Community)

Arts Build Community, a NH-based group of artists, creators and community leaders, hosted Manchester’s first community mural festival, led by the group’s founder, James Chase, an artist and an associate professor at the Institute of Art and Design at New England College.

The Community Canvas Mural Program, held August 11-22, showcased several murals that will beautify Manchester neighborhoods. For Chase, it was a return to his roots.

As an intern at the Institute of Art, Chase took community education classes working with artists much further along in their careers. “I learned that art wasn’t about answers,” says Chase. “It was a way of investigating. That’s something that I’ve always carried with me: how art can have the possibility of wonder and to inspire and pose questions.”

After returning to NH in 2014, he looked for ways to inspire others. He was working at the Institute, Manchester Community College and Mass Art and served as an arts commissioner for the City of Manchester.

“We had a budget of zero, so how do you promote the arts with a budget of zero? You have to go within your own network and have a long-term goal. We put a public sculpture on Old Granite Street and started doing pop-up galleries.”

During the pandemic, because people couldn’t come into galleries, he and his students retrofitted a trailer and literally brought art to the people in Manchester, Concord and Henniker.

To secure locations for murals, Chase says he started with getting buy-in from the community. With his co-producer on the project, Dominique Miller, he looked for community partners that they could assist with their vision.

“How do we build murals with the community rather than for the community? From there, it’s just really taken off,” says Chase. “We’re working with Families in Transition and MyTurn.”

The project focused on the Pearl Street parking lot, which is in Manchester’s master plan to redevelop. Chase says they began with active listening parties aimed at building ideas for the murals.

“Manchester has such a great diversity of population, backgrounds and workforce, so to have these murals reflect the people that actually live there is crucial. How do you feel that you’re welcome if you don’t see yourself reflected and represented?” he says.

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