Chestnut Street mural project organizers look to future
PHOTO BY ERIN ROLL/STAFF
By ERIN ROLL
The murals on the Chestnut Street bridge are moving forward, one paint scrape at a time.
Art to Action consists of Montclair High School students who want to re-paint the aging murals, which were painted almost 25 years ago under the trestle bridge.
May Li and Aneekah Uddin, both seniors at Montclair High School, have been leading the project since its inception last year.
The hard part was getting the official approval from NJ Transit, which owns the trestle bridge.
It was suggested that there be two murals — one on the subject of gun control, and one on the subject of mental health and wellness.
Art to Action reached out to Jared’s Fund, which was established in memory of Jared Zimmerman, a Montclair High School graduate who died in 2016. Jared’s Fund is awarding fellowships to students who create projects related to mental health, but Art to Action opted not to seek the fellowship, since the mural in progress is for gun control.
The Montclair Board of Education granted its approval for the project. NJ Transit agency gave permission for the project to go ahead in mid-May.
Groups of students tried to have the mural re-done in the past, but those efforts didn’t go anywhere. The most likely reason, Li said, was they didn’t know how to negotiate with NJ Transit and other authorities.
The project has taught them persistence, as many times they felt they “were at a bit of a standstill,” Li said.
It also took some effort to make the authorities take them seriously, since most of the students were under the age of 18. The students learned to market a project and present ideas, Uddin said.
The seniors involved in the project are graduating this month, which means after the summer a new group of students will have to step up to the task. Li will be attending Wellesley College, and Uddin will be attending Princeton.
The hard part is scraping off the 25-year-old paint.
Art to Action set up a GoFundMe page to raise money for supplies and to ask for donations. Any donations beyond the $3,000 goal are to be donated to the group Never Again, which was founded at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, FL after the school shooting there in 2018.
Red Star Paint on Bloomfield Avenue and American Royal Hardware on Park Street are among the hardware stores that have contributed supplies. The Montclair Fire Department also helped with power-washing the mural walls.
The students have reached out to muralists for advice on getting the walls scraped.
The hope is that a subsequent group of students can take on the job of painting the second mural, which will be dedicated to mental health issues.
The original mural was painted in 1995, after four people were killed in a shooting at what was then the Watchung Plaza post office on Fairfield Street. The old post office location on Fairfield Street is now an office building, and the post office was moved to a new location across Watchung Avenue.