New London considers downtown riverfront murals
City needs business owners’ signatures
By Scott Bellile
An extensive mural project could revamp a stretch of building facades along the Wolf River if downtown New London property owners agree to the project.
The New London City Council on July 14 approved the use of Downtown/Economic Development funds to pay for phase one of the Water Street mural project, estimated to cost $20,560. Phase one would place murals depicting New London history on the backs of several buildings spanning from Hillshire’s union building at 106 West North Water Street to Bult’s Quality Bake Shop at 114 West North Water Street.
Deb Silvers, director of the recently formed New London Connect Communities Program, which is a citizen group unaffiliated with the city, said she needs signatures from the three property owners affected by phase one before Connect Communities can write a contract with the artist. Her goal is to have phase one murals up by 2016.
“This is a revitalization of our whole downtown and making our town look incredible again,” Silvers said.
Phases two and three would follow several years down the road if the project were received. Those phases would cover more of North Water Street and part of Pearl Street.
New London would fund phase one in hopes it will be a success. The city would like donors to cover phases two and three.
The project involves painting the backs of all participating buildings one uniform color. Then contractors would install 26 4-by-8-foot panels painted by Wisconsin muralist Kelly Meredith.
Meredith has painted popular town history and veterans murals in Ashland, Park Falls, Glidden and other U.S. towns. Inspired by Renaissance artists, Meredith said her style blends realism, rich warm colors, dramatic lighting and “theatrical” gestures and expressions.
Rather than reproduce scenes from photographs, Meredith would visit New London before beginning to interview locals and learn the city’s history and mythologies. Meredith would then depict those stories on the panels.
“That goes along with the flow of the river,” Meredith said. “As you’re going down the river, you’ll see the progression, the history of New London as you move.”
Silvers decided New London could use downtown murals while biking downtown around Labor Day.
“I just reached the point of looking at that back side of the buildings knowing how beautiful the Wolf River is … and something needed to be done,” Silvers said. “I just reached the point of I have to figure out something. We’re being too passive in this town.”
Meredith toured New London in October. She echoed Silvers’ sentiments.
“They are truly uninviting and kind of aesthetically sad,” Meredith said about the buildings.
New London Mayor Gary Henke said at the July 8 Finance and Personnel Committee meeting that the buildings are hurting a realtor’s chances at selling land across the river along Wolf River Avenue.
“They can’t attract development to the whole Wolf River Lumber property because of the looks of the backs of those buildings,” Henke said.
Alderman Ron Steinhorst asked about whether the average motorist quickly crossing Krostue Memorial Bridge on Pearl Street would see the murals.
“No matter what town I’ve been to with murals, you do notice them while you’re driving,” Henke said. “You may not study them while you’re driving, but you do notice them.”
Alderman Dave Morack said if done well, the murals could attract tourists.
Henke said viewers would enjoy the sight of uniformly colored buildings with well-placed artwork over the “mish-mash” of color they see now.
“I really think it’s a really neat idea, and I think it will really help take your eye off away from the negative parts of those buildings that are uglier than sin,” Henke said.