Springfield murals start a conversation in the City

Perhaps you've seen them: paintings on the sides of buildings in downtown Springfield.

SPRINGFIELD, Mass. (WWLP) – Perhaps you’ve seen them: paintings on the sides of buildings in downtown Springfield. 22News found out who painted them – and why.

A conversation’s starting in Springfield, and you’re about to be a part of it.

“There’s no place like home,” said John Simpson, an artist who we’ll call “the conversation starter.” As you might have guessed, he’s referring to the Wizard of Oz. He’s created a larger-than-life replica from a scene of the movie on the side of a vacant building on State Street in downtown Springfield.

“And there’s no place like Springfield and we didn’t put it on here, but Springfield being the City of Homes, we thought it would be appropriate,” he continued, explaining why he chose that scene. But that alone isn’t much of a reason to paint detailed murals on each side of this vacant building by Court Square in downtown Springfield.

“You create a visual kind of way of people finding space interesting and you suddenly start to change the conversation about what the space is all about,” said Evan Plotkin, the so-called “mastermind” behind this painting and other works of art in the City of Springfield. He’s calling the movement “City Mosaic.” His philosophy: If you paint it, they’ll come. And they have.

“Circulation of people, you get more people on the street, which leads to more retail investment. More investment period,” he added.

When John’s not painting, he’s teaching art in his downtown studio at 1350 Main Street. When you look at the paintings in his studio, it’s hard to believe that many of the paintings weren’t done by professionals, not even by art majors. It’s that belief that anyone can appreciate and contribute to art, that’s driven him to add a fresh coat of paint to the City…for free, by the way.

Simpson is inspired by the sights and sounds of people around him. “This one group of four women the other day saw it from out on the street and were like we had to come over. We saw it. The color! We had to come see it. Then they started posing with it. Then they become part of it.”

Don’t take his word for it. While we were talking with him by the murals, we noticed dozens of people stopping to admire the art. One was even interested in continuing the conversation at his Springfield business.

These paintings aren’t just helping to make Springfield beautiful. They’re also helping to make it safer. The artists pushed for new lights in the alleyway by the courthouse, and since then, people have felt safer walking down there after work, and not one painting has been tagged with graffiti.

Just ask Michael Cass. “I’m the Eraser. I do graffiti remediation for the City of Springfield,” Cass said. He works for the City and said each city in Massachusetts is required to have someone monitor the graffiti and their jobs are paid for by federal money. He usually works with black and white, painting over gang signs and graffiti. But, blank slates are more like pauses in the conversation. These vibrant pieces fill the void, and inspire others.

“They get involved and they say ‘oh can you do this person or that person? This and that.” It’s a living being all in itself,” Cass added.

As we were talking to John and Cass, Valentin Sirafin came by with a request: “I want to see some Puerto Rican people around here too, the picture, because there’s a lot of Hispanic and Puerto Ricans here.” Simpson said he would be painting some Puerto Rican band celebrities in the strips of black plywood still remaining.

Springfield Mayor Domenic Sarno told us City Mosaic is even helping troubled youth to turn their lives around, giving them a hand at creating art.

Due to the vacant building’s proximity to the future site of MGM Springfield, the future of the murals painted on its walls is uncertain. They could be up for auction, but for now, they’re serving a purpose in Springfield’s downtown.

Plotkin and Simpson said they’ve been in talks with MGM Springfield with hopes of providing artwork for the casino as well.

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