The towns of Old Lyme, East Lyme, New London and Norwich will soon be home to four murals highlighting diverse stories from each community’s history.
Public Art for Racial Justice Education, an all-volunteer organization in southeastern Connecticut aiming to combat racial inequity through community art programming, is planning the “Sister Murals” to tell previously overlooked stories from the four cities.
In Norwich, for example, the mural will feature David Ruggles, an abolitionist born in Norwich who helped hundreds of people, including Frederick Douglass, escape slavery via the Underground Railroad. Old Lyme’s mural, which will be painted in Old Lyme Middle School, will highlight the town’s history of taking in refugees. New London’s Sister Mural will be painted in Fulton Park.
The goal is that each town’s mural will highlight something unique about that community, but that the creation and enjoyment of the murals will bring the towns together.
“It was designed to build community by partnering towns together to work on a mural at the same time,” said PARJE Secretary Jac Lahav. “We’ll have kids from New London schools come to help paint the Old Lyme mural. Mural painting can be such a community-oriented activity, and it’s another way to break down some of the walls of segregation between our towns.”
The group is looking to raise $30,000 from individual donors, and has a matching grant from nonprofit Sustainable CT to double that amount to $60,000, as long as each mural has contributions from 75 separate donors. As of September 13, the organization is just shy of $10,000.
The group, which was founded last year in the aftermath of the killing of George Floyd, has 30 “highly-involved” members, and a mailing list of more than 100 subscribers, according to Eddie Long, PARJE co-chair and member of the New London Arts Council.
Lahav said the group plans to hold an open call for “regional BIPOC artists” in partnership with CT Murals, a group that produces public art projects, to “ensure that everything is done professionally from ideation to creation to execution to upkeep.”
The upkeep will be of particular importance, as the organization plans to hold educational programming and gatherings at the murals.
“With most murals, the installation is the end of the project,” Long said. “For us, it’s really the beginning. We’re looking to do so much more than just beautify these cities.”
Long also said he believes that art can be particularly valuable at helping communities tackle complex issues like racial inequality, especially if that art is grounded in local history that might bring in people who may not already be as passionate about the cause.
Asked why people should donate to their cause rather than other racial justice organizations, Long pointed to their long list of partner organizations, like local NAACP chapters, and emphasized the transformative power of community art.
“Art gives us a way to talk to people of all different sides, from allies to those who are most impacted, to people who think there is no race problem,” Long said. “We can get people to join this conversation because their town has something to do with it.”
More information about the project can be found by visiting www.RacialJusticeArt.org