The Art of Building Community – Public Mosaic Projects Bring It All Together
Mosaic art, by design, is suitable for a variety of outdoor surfaces. It’s colorful, durable, and perfect for public art. Community projects and aesthetic enhancement of shared spaces are a wonderful match.
Sometimes, this type of art pops up – a gift to the public with mysterious origins. Some installations were designed with a mission of bringing people together. Others just seem to grow organically, with frequent community interactions and contributions keeping the tendrils of mosaic creeping ever further. It’s appealing to every age group, is a form of art used around the world, and can be used for any subject. Let’s do a bit of globe-trotting for some inspiration.
Murphy Community Park, Calaveras County, CA
More than 100 community members joined in to help create this mural at their city park. Loaded down with animals, flowers, and a few insects, the sunny piece was inspired by artist Robin Modlin’s delightful interactions with the public as she worked on a piece at a nearby business. Donations and funding kicked off the project, which utilized everyone from local fifth graders and went on to inspire future projects by the self-named “Merry Mosaicers”.
The whole installation was completed in 15 days by enthusiastic volunteers. Tiny bits of local lore are woven into the design.
The Mosaic Trail, East Village, New York City
Jim “Mosaic Man” Powers has been beautifying the light poles in this area for several years, establishing a tentative detente with the city. The Vietnam veteran and mosaic artist has used these public features to memorialize NYPD members lost their lives on 9/11, as well as to uplift and celebrate the neighborhoods they are found in.
Like many types of public art, they’re subject change, and are sometimes taken down by the city. The Mosaic Trail is lovingly maintained as Powers can best manage. He’s made each pole into a separate art piece, starting with a unique base covering, and extending as high as he can go. Like all public art pieces, they engage the public, remain relevant to their surroundings, and provoke conversation and a sense of community.
Canal Mosaics, Coventry, England
Canal works throughout the UK have taken it upon themselves to beautify footpaths and infrastructure – done to encourage more public use of the waterways. Mosaic art has been utilized at many locations under bridges and on support structures, usually with a local twist and input from school children.
Coventry has been tapped as the City of Culture for 2021, leading to an increase in community art. Subjects include local history, as depicted in the Rosalind Wates piece above, as well as local fauna, done by area schoolchildren.
Locations are usually available via the local authorities, who encourage visitors to the waterways to seek out the pieces as they enjoy the outdoors.
Vanowen Street, North Hollywood, CA
A block party celebrating the completed installation of a mosaic art wall? It sounds like a perfect blend of art and neighborhood, doesn’t it? Wall and sidewalk were both utilized for a piece of mosaic mural art that brought in community contributions to make it all happen.
Artist Renee Howard began working on the 45-foot expanse with a variety of materials that included “random gifts” from area residents. You’ll see everything from CD’s to children’s toys incorporated into the design, which ends up in a “Rock and Roll River”.
The best community art preserves memories and encourages both interaction and stewardship. The Vanowen Street wall art is definitely on target with both missions. Artist Howard believes that this form of mosaic art can serve as a collective source of history, folklore, and honor both everyday life and shared goals. Touching encouraged!
Havana, Cuba – The Jaimanitas Neighborhood
With the limited ability to enjoy Cuba as a tourist destination, this wonderful example of community art could easily escape notice. It’s worth seeking out.
Jose Fuster began by adorning his “Casa Fuster” some three decades ago. Both his love of his community and his drive to create led him to venture out past his own enclave. Said Fuster:
“This project is not only about my house. It’s about my neighbor’s houses. My neighbors are great people.”
The result is magical.
Fuster’s art appears everywhere. Look up, look down, peer around a corner, and you’re likely to go eye-to-eye with a detailed piece of mosaic art, just waiting to be discovered. Welcome to “Fusterlandia”. With a style that’s sometimes reminiscent of Picasso or Gaudi, his mosaic art is colorful, often glittering, and loved by his fellow resident in this little corner of Havana.
The sense of community is woven into the fabric of the neighborhood. It’s a fine example of what this type of public art can accomplish. Jaimanitas is filled with wonder. The local culture is proud of its enclave.
Hounslow Holloway Street Community Mosaics, Great Britain
Part of an initiative by the City of London to build community pride and change negative visitor perceptions, the Hounslow mosaic pieces were made by an intergenerational and multi-cultural group of residents. The theme? “What do you love about Hounslow?’
Done under the guidance of two local mosaic artists, the individual pieces were made with colors and patterns in their borders that symbolized both the cultural diversity and individuality of the participants and their community. You’ll see symbols of sport, local landmarks, and other meaningful icons.
Adorning what were formerly blank walls in a parking lot, they’ve been an inspiration for more mosaic art in Hounslow. Community pride is one of the many things that this type of public art elevates.
Worcester Art Museum Community Mosaic, Worcester, MA
Big, beautiful, and the culmination of efforts by more than 1,000 participants and 14 community schools and agencies, this installation at the Museum’s garden court is a dizzying portrayal of love and pride for this Massachusetts city. 40 colors of porcelain tile were used in the 45 by 8-foot mural.
You’ll see everything from depictions of the four well-defined seasons to local inventors, learning institutions, neighborhoods, and landmarks. Contributors aged 5 to 80 all chipped in to make the monumental piece happen.
As a Museum director said: “The Community Mosaic has become a touchstone for the community—there are many stories about how making the mosaic had an unbelievable impact on people’s lives.”
Not coincidentally, the WAM is also the home of some fine pieces of historical mosaic art, including the largest Antioch Mosaics in the United States: the splendid Hunting Scene, which came from the early 6th century A.D.
It’s lovely to think of the interest in mosaic art and the support of this and other museums were encouraged by those who participated in the community mosaic.
Verona Street Murals, Madison, WI
In Madison, WI, a highway construction project resulted in a community mosaic art project that brings joy and a sense of pride. The Verona Street Project was a collaborative effort with local children, who even traced their outlines on paper to include in the final designs. It doesn’t get much more personal than that!
Mirrored tiles enhance the glitz effect and liven up the thoroughfare. The design here was first posed by the students on their own, who perfected their poses before getting their outlines traced.
Work on the murals was not only about design, but the students and volunteers also put in hours of actual assembly time, where they learned about the art of mosaic and the details of assembly.
Like many buildings associated with kids, schools can definitely appreciate the durability of mosaic tile art. The versatility inherent in its design also makes it easy to customize with art actually designed by students.
Let’s not forget the joy of smashing tiles and helping contribute to the actual creation of the murals. Kids and mosaic art are a fine pairing. If you’ve perhaps been searching for a school-wide project, this could be your answer!
This piece is centered around a theme of friendship. Core values for the school are shown on the border while the schoolyard and local scenery round it out. Small details, like the group of musicians and their dog friend, are clearly from the creative minds of the students.
This Tree of Life image is a rainbow of color in a school lobby. The design depicts the four seasons, as well as the school values. Its Venetian glass and ceramic tiles were installed with the help of the students of the public school.
An elementary school in Connecticut brought all six grades together for a project that decorated the exterior pillars at their campus entrance. They collaborated with artist Josh Winer, working with their school’s “H.E.A.R.T” theme, an acronym for Helpfulness, Effort, Acceptance, Respect, and Teamwork. The fact that the contributions came from everyone to kindergarteners to fifth graders is a noteworthy feature of this brightly-hued project.
Columns and pillars make a great surface for this type of collaborative school art. They offer multiple sides, a natural setting for different images, and the opportunity to make a real statement in high-traffic areas.
Tile murals allow students to engage with art in a way that they might not have previously. There’s the potential for first creating the designs in 2D, and then moving on to a variety of skills as the mural is actually prepared and installed.
It’s a project that’s inclusive of all levels of dexterity, coordination, and ability to express themselves through art.
The tangible, touchable nature of community mosaic art makes it unique. By allowing the contributions of materials, labor, and inspiration from local residents, it can create a sense of ownership, pride, and appreciation that can’t always be achieved with single creator public art pieces. It’s powerful, beautiful, and filled with real meaning and a sense of place.
For anyone inspired to undertake a similar project in your own community, check into our mosaic kits that can introduce you to the wonderfully fun hobby of mosaic art, and can even be customized in a design of your choice. It’s the perfect introduction to the craft.