HIGHLAND PARK – Planning has begun to repair a Raritan Avenue mural celebrating the diversity of the community that was defaced in the past week shortly after the completion of the artwork.
“We are working on the logistics right now,” said coLAB Arts co-founder and production manager Dan Swern, adding that the main concern, which he has discussed with borough officials, is applying a clear top coat over the wall paint once the acrylic paint has cured so that any future marks can be easily removed.
“What we don’t want to do is be in a position where we refresh the mural, we clean it, we fix it and it still remains vulnerable to any potential future vandalism,” Swern said.
He expects work to begin in the next few weeks, if not sooner. Swern said the artist has already started working on his research.
“She’s ready to tackle it directly,” he said. “Once the community has worked to repair itself, we are now beginning to work on repairing the mural.”
Mayor Gayle Brill Mittler met with the Head of the Main Street Highland Park Business District Commission and building owner, who was extremely supportive throughout, regarding the potential installation of a video camera , Swern said.
“It’s the first piece of deterrence that’s in the ether,” he said.
Brill Mittler was one of the speakers at an interfaith vigil on Monday evening condemning the graffiti that twice marred the “Home is Where We Make It” mural shortly after the artwork was completed . An impromptu rally had taken place at the mural a few days earlier.
“Highland Park is not a perfect community. It’s not even enough that it’s a beautiful community. That was certainly evidenced by the degradation of this mural. As mayor, I want to work to see our community aspire “We should be a community that practices extreme hospitality. Highland Park should not just talk about anti-racism policies, but practice it in all of its government agencies and social life,” the mayor said.
“The decay of the mural is a tragedy, in many ways. The potential for hatred on the streets of Highland Park is ever present,” Brill Mittler said. “Work must be done that we are not equipped to facilitate alone. We are engaging in a public and transparent process to protect our black and racially minority residents who are subject to racial violence.”
Thomas Santo, 54, of Highland Park, has been charged with intimidation and criminal mischief in connection with the vandalism of the mural, Highland Park police said Thursday. Mr.
The mural depicts the borough’s heritage as a welcoming community and focuses on local resettlement efforts for refugees and asylum seekers over the past two years with portraits referencing three refugees. The work was designed and installed by muralist and artist Amrisa Niranjan.
The mural was produced by coLAB Arts and the Shelter Project in collaboration with Interfaith-RISE, DIRE and Black Community Watchline, with support from Main Street Highland Park and the Highland Park Arts Commission.
According to the coLab Arts website, during the installation of the mural, Niranjan was racially harassed three times. Then the mural, which was completed last week, was vandalized twice soon after. The letters “USA” and two Stars of David were spray painted on a portrait of a young woman wearing a hijab. Niranjan’s name on the mural has also been obscured with spray paint.
Swern said the vandalism happened so early in the paint’s curing process that nothing could be done to make repairs until the paint had finished curing.
He said Niranjan planned to return to Highland Park to carry out repairs as well as additional embellishments. The work will then have to cure for a few days before the clear coat is installed either by the Borough’s Public Works Department or by a professional contractor, which could cost $10,000, an unbudgeted cost.
Swern said the job involved maneuvering around a tree and air conditioning equipment. An aerial lift was required to install the mural.
He said what has been positive is that community members want to be there to make sure the artist feels protected and to provide stewardship for the mural as it heals when damage may occur prior to clearcoat application.
Swern said coLAB Arts has been doing this type of work in New Brunswick for six years without any similar destructive or traumatic incidents for the artists or the community.
“Frankly, we didn’t have the logistics in place to protect the artist and protect the artwork when we entered the community. When we realized what was happening, we were incredibly grateful that a response strong community there, volunteer themselves to be a deterrent between the artist and any potential harassment and we see that continuing now,” Swern said.
Suzanne Russell is a breaking news reporter for MyCentralJersey.com covering crime, the courts and other mayhem. To get unlimited access, please subscribe or activate your digital account today.