BENNINGTON — Bare, brick walls that house establishments in large cities sometimes are covered with colorful, intricate murals. A similar idea for a project downtown is starting to take shape.
A Story Night dinner fundraiser will occur on June 24 in an effort to help fund the Bennington Mural Project to brighten up existing walls around town. The initiative involves various entities and residents.
Forest Byrd is spearheading the project and decided to utilize the monthly Story Night events as a time to raise money for the project. Story Nights happen at the Catamount Tap House once a month where folks come to tell short, true stories without prompts, a version of Moth talks.
Byrd toured Philadelphia's mural project as well as some pieces in nearby North Adams, Mass. and Brattleboro for inspiration. His plan is to raise money, apply for the Downtown Bennington Economic Vitality Project with Citizens for a Greater Bennington, get a budget approved with the Select Board, and assist in promoting businesses.
"First, you have to create a market for the murals and then a business; a nonprofit, cooperative," Byrd said. "I just have to pull the artists out and let them know it's worth it."
The City of Philadelphia Mural Arts Program is the nation's largest public art program with a mission of igniting change through art, according to MuralArts.org. It has engaged communities in 50 to 100 projects each year and brings in 12,000 visitors to tour the outdoor art gallery. It started in 1984 as part of the Philadelphia Anti-Graffiti Network by artist Jane Golden. Murals reflect equality amongst race, sexual identity, local icons and other social ideals that represent the city.
"We just have a goal of what we want them to look like. You need to have a standard so there's ranges that make it easy for us to respect it," he said. "It's a long-term project that's dynamic."
Whitney Packer was influenced by Byrd's notions and "naturally transitioned" into assisting his project load by taking on more clerical work.
"I've been helping Forest put the ideas into motion and built a web page for the Story Night because not everyone uses Facebook," Packer said. "[The project] will succeed no matter what. It's not too costly and it will have longevity and success for a while."
The first few surfaces Byrd has his eyes on include the grey wall on the side of Panache clothing store — which isn't firmly approved yet, the side of Bringing You Vermont to advertise weekly movie nights, and on two panels on either side Bald Mountain Trail overpass.
In a letter to businesses requesting sponsorship, Packer writes that the project "will beautify older buildings, stimulate tourism, and bring a sense of vibrancy and renewal for the people who currently live and work here. There will be walking trails to the murals upon completion. All of our efforts will bring more visibility to your business and Bennington as a whole."
A navigation map will be implemented for visitors to tour each mural. Packer said it could become a staple for the town, the same way covered bridges are with its travel map.
"I am in support of Forest as an artist pursuing a project," Matthew Perry, Vermont Arts Exchange executive director said.
Over $500 in raffle items have been donated by agencies in town. If interested in donating, the deadline is June 17.
If you go
What: Story Night dinner fundraiser
When: June 24, doors: 6 p.m., dinner 6:15, pre-show 6:30, stories 7:15 p.m.
Where: Masonic Hall at 504 Main St.
Why: To fund the Bennington Mural Project
How: Tickets at Brown Paper Tickets