A community arts group in Washington County has just cleared a major hurdle in its effort to celebrate resilience after the devastation of Tropical Storm Irene a decade ago.
Since March, Waterbury Arts had been trying to raise $46,000 to pay for a two-stories-tall mural on the side of an art gallery. Organizers have just learned, to their surprise, that they’ve surpassed the goal.
Whitney Aldrich owns Axel’s Gallery & Frame Shop on Stowe Street in Waterbury. When she learned Friday morning that Waterbury Arts had raised $49,000, she thought a mathematical error had been made somewhere.
“It just took my breath away,” she said. “I couldn’t believe it, and I actually didn’t believe it for a minute until I triple-checked everything. We have three weeks left before we start install, and we thought we would be down to the wire.”
It wasn’t a typographical mistake. “Phoenix Rising”, a removable mural more than 400 square feet in size, is completely paid for and then some. It’s about to be installed on a taped-off section of an exterior wall of Axel’s Gallery.
The mythological phoenix’s rise from ashes symbolizes Waterbury’s effort to recover from Irene. The particular design of the mural is based upon one first seen not long after the storm in Waterbury’s annual River of Light Parade.
“It happens the first weekend in December,” Laura Parrette said. “It marches downtown, there’s all these lanterns and they have this beautiful phoenix rising, and that kind of drove all of our design.”
Waterbury Arts asked artists in 2019 to submit concepts based upon the phoenix lantern design seen in the parade years earlier.
“We gave them a stipend, and one of the artists was chosen,” Parrette said. “The piece we’re putting up on the wall was (designed by) Jessica Zawiski; she’s actually a former Waterbury resident.”
The completed mural will be unveiled at 5:30 p.m. on Friday, August 27, the day before the tenth anniversary of the storm. Organizers hope Zawicki will attend. Waterbury Arts will use the $3,000 left over as seed money for future community art projects.
“It’s obvious, with almost 100 donors for this project, that we have the support of the community and people want to see more public artwork in their community,” Aldrich said.
That celebration on August 27 will serve dual purposes. It’ll also mark the completion of the lengthy road reconstruction project on Main Street.