Cover-Up Job: The Creative Capital rejects a cheerful neighborhood mural

The storefront between Blake’s Tavern and Washington Street Market had been boarded up for months. To passing traffic the dingy, graffiti-marked wall was an eyesore; for Ryan Dean and Lara Henderson, it was a potential canvas.  

The collaborative team had recently helped a new restaurant down the street, turning a broken and boarded up window into a bright mural. The two welcomed another opportunity to bring art to the neighborhood. So after getting encouragement from nearby businesses, they got to work. 

As Dean and Henderson began painting, they drew an audience. “People would walk by, we’d have conversations … it was a way of building community,” Dean said. “We got a lot of positive feedback, thanks and praise for the work we were doing. It was a good way of getting to know passersby and new neighbors.” Despite the freezing weather, within two or three weeks the drab wall had become transformed – the painted characters were playful, the colors engaging.

Then just as the mural neared completion, it was painted over.

To Dean, the cover-up is somewhat of a mystery. “It was funny, because we saw the Downtown Improvement District team walking down the street while we were painting, and they seemed into it, and happy for us. But that was also the same organization that painted it over, so there is some kind of miscommunication. We don’t know where that decision came from.” Dean wasn’t aware of any complaints.

It might have been that the site was next on the list to get a new coat of latex, but the timing is curious. The expanse had been falling into disrepair for at least six months. Yet it was only after local artists created a mural that it got the cover-up.

“It’s kind of two different ideas,” said Dean, “about what an inviting Avenue of the Arts in the Creative Capitol should look like.” To be fair, the neutral tan color doesn’t clash with surrounding buildings – but neither does it welcome visitors to the block or engage them.

Attempts to contact the city have so far met a dead end and Dean is frustrated: “This could have been a real opportunity for artists to engage with their community – Lara and I live in the area, so it was something we would walk by everyday. Neighbors would stop and say that it made them happy to see something fun, so it was a little sad to see that go.”

This may have been a missed opportunity, but Providence Mayor Elorza has shown a clear appreciation of the arts, and Dean and Henderson have a sincere desire to grow community through art. If communication can be forged between parties, perhaps the future holds other possibilities.