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Mayor’s Mural Crew adapts to COVID-19 needs

Students think outside the box to make art happen

Celina Colby
Celina Colby
Celina Colby is an arts and travel reporter with a fondness for Russian novels.... VIEW BIO
Mayor’s Mural Crew adapts to COVID-19 needs
“Nieli’ka” by The Mayor’s Mural Crew on Centre Street in Jamaica Plain. PHOTO: Celina Colby

The end of August marked the 29th completed year of The Mayor’s Mural Crew, a program that employs high school students from around Boston to create murals and public art projects citywide. This year the Mural Crew employed nearly triple its typical number of students in an effort to provide safe, in-person work experiences and opportunities during this challenging time.

Because of the increased use of outdoor spaces during COVID-19, including Franklin Park, Boston’s largest open space, the Mural Crew altered its traditional model of mural painting to focus more on street activism, painting and placemaking projects to enhance those outdoor safe havens.

“Reverse the Curse” by The Mayor's Mural Crew in Roslindale Village. Photo: Celina Colby

“Reverse the Curse” by The Mayor’s Mural Crew in Roslindale Village. Photo: Celina Colby

“It was a really great chance to be creative with low stakes and lots of help from my supervisors and coworkers. We had to think outside the box to make art happen in the midst of COVID-19,” said Christy Jestin of West Roxbury in a statement. Jestin has just begun his first year at Harvard College.

One project created a winding path of land sculptures through Franklin Park, including a beech tree treehouse near Scarboro Pond that uses only native materials like stones and fallen branches from the surrounding landscape. Along Blue Hill Avenue in the park, a series of temporary social-justice-themed sidewalk quotes were installed based on the design of youth artist Leah Prodigalidad. These installations recognize the tension in our societal climate, the shift in how Bostonians are interacting with and depending on public spaces, and the way the art world has pivoted to enhance those experiences.

The Mayor’s Mural Crew was established in 1991 as a summer project to cover graffiti with murals. Since then, the program has employed hundreds of young artists and created murals in neighborhood parks and on the walls of small businesses in neighborhoods all over Boston. While museums, galleries and other art spaces were closed in the spring and early summer, public art installations like those murals provided crucial exposure to art in a safe way.

Isabel Oalican, a rising sophomore Posse Scholar at Bryn Mawr College originally from Roslindale, had her first experience with the Mural Crew this summer.  She said, “Before joining The Mayor’s Mural Crew, I was afraid creativity was a thing I would lose stuck in quarantine, but the crew taught me that art lies within everything, even a global pandemic. Channeling how we felt about the reality of the pandemic into our work was fulfilling.”

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