Renowned artist to create towering mural on North Adams complex

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NORTH ADAMS — A mural, up to eight-stories high, will soon grace the north face of Ashland Park residential tower.

Renowned mural artist Gaia has been commissioned to create the work, which he will design based on the surveys being filled out by residents of the building's 126 units.

The project, envisioned by the Ashland Street Initiative, is being paid for out of funding raised in an internet campaign and a matching grant from MassDevelopment, according to Benjamin Lamb, program coordinator of The NAMAzing Initiative and member of the North Adams City Council.

It is only one of up to nine murals to be installed on walls from MCLA to Main Street, although the others will only be up to 4-by-8 feet, whereas the Gaia piece will be up to eight stories high, Lamb said.

Other features of the Ashland Street Initiative include tree plantings along the corridor completed in the fall of 2019, custom benches and bike racks being fabricated and installed, crosswalk flag stations to increase pedestrian safety, and a number of creative installations and green space improvements. As a cornerstone of the project, the large-scale mural has been planned to be painted on the north-facing wall of the North Adams Housing Authority complex.

The cost of the mural, including the paint, is $13,000 of the $27,000 in funding raised for the initiative.

Gaia grew up in New York City and is a 2011 graduate of the Maryland Institute College of Art, where he earned a bachelor's degree in fine arts. His studio work, installations and gallery projects have been exhibited throughout the world, most notably at The Baltimore Museum of Art, Rice Gallery in Houston, the Palazzo Collicola Arti Visive in Spoleto, Italy and the Civil and Human Rights Museum in Atlanta.

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Lamb said Gaia typically finds inspiration for his murals by understanding the "contemporary culture of the community" in which it will reside.

When researching mural artists that could do the work, Lamb noted, the group felt that Gaia would be perfect. So they reached out to him.

"We thought it was a long shot, but he jumped right in," Lamb said.

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Gaia's work is known for brilliant colors and ethereal designs that involve images of people, nature and spirituality.

"Whatever he comes up with will have a striking impact on people who see it, which is why I'm so thrilled," Lamb said.

He said the Ashland Street Initiative hopes to wrap up by the beginning of September.

The other murals, when combined with Gaia's work, will be "like a string of brilliant pearls on a number of buildings along the route from MCLA to downtown."

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The smaller murals will be designed and installed by a number of local artists, who will be submitting proposals to a selection committee during the coming weeks.

Lamb stressed how impressed he is with Gaia's past works.

"His O+ work in Kingston, N.Y., is some of the most inspiring, bold and eye opening public artwork I have ever encountered," Lamb said. "His work is of a caliber and quality, with incredibly deep intention, that will help inject new vibrancy and beauty on Ashland Street while celebrating our community's present and past."

Jessica Sweeney, creative director of Common Folk, said she is looking forward to seeing Gaia's work come to fruition.

"I am eager for Gaia to not only share his talent, but to further encapsulate the voices of our community," she said. "His work to engage the community of the building and of the city in this process affirms how art and creativity is more than just a picture, it is saying something. I look forward to seeing what our community has to say and how Gaia makes those voices permanent through this mural."

Scott Stafford can be reached at sstafford@berkshireeagle.com or 413-629-4517.


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