Abandon ship and celebrate the art of New London

This time, I hope New London misses the boat with state money.

The city learned earlier this month that it will receive $126,000 from The Department of Economic and Community Development and the Connecticut Office of the Arts for public art projects in downtown New London.

The grant will fund three murals that will adorn the side of Caruso's Music, the Carriage House and the backside of the Art Park stage as well as a trompe l'oeil stairwell on the side of the Water Street parking structure.

Amid this welcome news, I'm harboring a fear.

Namely, that one or all of the murals will celebrate New London's maritime history and its connection to the sea.

I'm really hoping that won't happen.

If you look around the city, there are constant reminders that here it's all maritime, all the time.

There's the metal panels on the Parade detailing New London's connection to the grisly profession of whaling, which of course gives the city its sobriquet.

To put a fine point on it, there's the very fine sculpture of a whale diving (or is it escaping?) into the plaza pavement.

And, of course, the high school sports teams are the Whalers, the city's tongue-in-cheek music awards are called the Whalies and you'll find some of the city's most notable buildings along Whale Oil Row.

Furthermore, the city's most famous mural, Mark Wyland's on Eugene O'Neill Drive, depicts several un-harpooned whales lumbering across a brick sea.

It's not just whales; there are ships, too.

We have Sailfest every year, and this summer the region will look forward to OpSail, when tall ships will, reportedly, fill the harbor.

In the meantime, if you need actual boats, a quick glance out of my downtown apartment window reveals three ferries, two tug boats, a submarine and the famous Barque Eagle, all bobbing in the Thames.

More?

The city's motto, which also forms part the motto of this newspaper, is "Mare Libereum," or "freedom of the seas."

Of course, New London has a rich and complicated history, but with these murals, I hope the selected artists will chart a different course.

I hope the artists selected will paint something that depicts the city as it is now, today, in 2012.

We should use this opportunity to create original works that say something about who we are, and what the city is and what it means to live here.

I should think the murals could do more than "beautify the neighborhood," as Mayor Finizio said at the presser announcing the grants.

They should aspire to be art, not a fresh coat of paint.

What might that look like? Well, according to Hygienic's website, the project is meant "to dramatically demonstrate the impact that art can have in building vibrant communities."

I don't think I would have to call too many witnesses to the stand to offer enough evidence that New London is a vibrant community.

So, let's demonstrate that and abandon the ship.

Stephen Chupaska is a writer who lives in downtown New London.

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