Artists aim to replace graffiti

Graffiti can be seen on rock and concrete walls of the Veterans’ Memorial Riverwalk along the Black River in Watertown. Kara Dry/Watertown Daily Times

WATERTOWN — Dan Robbins, the artist behind the paint-by-numbers sets from your childhood, might have been proud of efforts to take the graffiti-filled retaining wall in the city’s Veterans’ Memorial Riverwalk and create pieces of art.

That’s because the public will be invited to participate in a paint-by-numbers mural this summer along a section of the 20-foot-tall wall in the city park along the Black River. The paint-by-number will be the first piece completed along that nearly 500-foot-long wall.

After that first paint-by-number piece is completed, organizers plan about 20 murals in all that will be finished over the next few years, said Joseph Wessner, president of the Watertown Downtown Business Association, which is spearheading the project.

The theme of the murals will take on the city’s past, present and future and “celebrate the goals of Watertown,” he said.

The Riverwalk Art Project is a joint venture of the Downtown Business Association, a local group of artists and musicians called Holdown Upstate, and the North Country Arts Council to bring art to downtown Watertown. Local artist Lyndsay Paranzino and the Children’s Miracle Network also are involved in the project.

The Downtown Art Committee also is working with the city on the project. The murals will start on the east side of the Riverwalk, at the end of Newell Street, and will cover the 492 feet of wall that’s within the park itself. The art will be painted on 4-foot by 8-foot aluminium panels that will be mounted to the wall.

The group has contracted, Liza LaBarge an art professor, museum educator and muralist from Potsdam, to design the paint-by-number mural. That piece will be painted by the public at several events that the group is putting together this summer to raise funds, awareness and excitement for the project, he said. The local real estate office of Lori Gevera Keller/Williams is sponsoring the first mural.

The other pieces will be created by professional artists, community nonprofit organizations and students from galleries, local schools and colleges.

“The idea is to create a dynamic gallery of art that is ever-changing, with some permanent pieces to anchor the exhibit,” Mr. Wessner said, adding the student and community pieces will be temporary installations.

When the wall is filled with art, the temporary pieces will be replaced with new art from the same or similar sources. The first pieces of art would be donated to the organization or school that provided it or auctioned off.

Mr. Wessner plans to meet with the City Council to discuss his plans for the murals and the wall. Last year, council members approved an agreement with the group to work on the mural project.

He’s also been working with the city’s Planning Department and Engineering office on the project.

The group is seeking other sponsors for the project.

He hopes the murals would create an arts renaissance of sorts in the city and north country.

Every fall, the group plans to hold an art festival in the park to celebrate the arts and to unveil any new pieces. The festival, which would include artist’s booths, performance artists, food and music, would be an annual event to celebrate the arts in the north country.

While it would take between three and five years to fill the wall, the group has big plans for riverwalk. Organizers would like to turn into an art park, full of sculptures, murals and other forms of art.

They also envision bringing art into downtown and make it the cultural center of the north country through the arts.

In 1986, the city was awarded a 50% matching grant through the state Environmental Quality Bond Act for the $411,000 project to establish the park, which has a view of the 30-foot cascade below. It was completed in 1993.

But the park has gone through rough times for more than a decade. The park benches are in need of repair, and a section of fencing overlooking the river bank is missing. Few people visit the park now.

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