WATERTOWN — The cement retaining wall in Veterans’ Memorial Riverwalk Park is full of graffiti, including a big red heart, a black spray-painted SpongeBob character, vulgar language and messages with meanings only known to the creators.
None of it can be described as artwork.
But the Downtown Business Association and a group of local artists would like to change that.
They think the more than 20-foot-tall retaining wall, which dominates the east end of the city park along the Black River, would be the perfect place to create a series of murals and get rid of the annoying graffiti that’s plagued the wall for years, DBA President Joseph Wessner said.
“That’s the beginning,” he said, adding the DBA has been a longtime advocate of downtown public art. “We’ve been wanting to connect the river with downtown.”
Although it was stalled during the coronavirus, the DBA has been working on converting the DBA into a Downtown Business District, or BID, in the city’s central business center.
In addition to shared services and a collaborative marketing program, downtown beautification is one of the goals of a BID, Mr. Wessner said.
“Lots of people are interested in creating the murals,” he said.
The North County Arts Council, a local group of artists and musicians called Holdown Upstate, and Lyndsay Paranzino, owner of an antique shop in the Paddock Arcade, have come forward to help with the project. They’ve already gotten the blessing of the city after the City Council recently approved an agreement with the DBA to move forward with the project.
Mykel Myrick, a local musician and DJ with Tunes 92.5, is involved with Holdown Upstate after moving to Watertown from Ithaca in 2012.
His morning runs go through the park, and he often watches the sun go down from a vantage point on the west of the park, so he was interested in helping people get together to work on the mural project. He believes the murals will put a new focus on the seldom-used park.
“The fact is that the city needs it,” he said. “The city needs a new sense of identity.”
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.
Earlier this week, the park was quiet, except for a young couple having lunch with a toddler at a picnic table and two women taking a lunchtime walk along the paved path.
Planning the mural project has already begun. The murals would be created next fall.
Organizers envision sectioning off the wall into 30-foot-long spaces and commission three to five artists to create permanent pieces that would be preserved for many years. The other sections would feature artwork by local high school and college students.
Mayor Jeffrey M. Smith looks forward to the day when the group comes up with ideas for the artwork.
“It will give the park character,” he said.
Once the mural is finished, organizers plan on celebrating the new interest in the park with an annual fall festival.
The DBA and its partners will undertake the organization, funding and execution of the painting, festival and other related activities surrounding the project.
The project would create an ever-changing mosaic of art along the wall, Mr. Wessner said.