Fairfield could be latest town to add a MLK mural

Photo of Katrina Koerting
"Birthing of a Legacy" by Ben Keller, one of the initiative's founding artists, at the Mahoney Recreation Center in Manchester.

“Birthing of a Legacy” by Ben Keller, one of the initiative’s founding artists, at the Mahoney Recreation Center in Manchester.

Emily M. Olson / Hearst Connecticut Media /

FAIRFIELD — A locally created mural promoting diversity and inclusion could be coming to town as part of a statewide initiative to honor Martin Luther King Jr.’s legacy.

“It’s a way to demonstrate communities are open and welcoming to a diverse group,” said Matt Conway, executive director for RiseUp for the Arts, the group leading the effort.

CT Murals, a part of RiseUp for the Arts, is partnering with 39 communities across Connecticut to create a mural for each year of King’s life and have them up by the next Martin Luther King Day. Each mural will represent the messages, images and symbols that King stood for, according to the group.

It kicked off on MLK Day 2021 with the unveiling of “Birthing of a Legacy” by Ben Keller, one of the initiative’s founding artists, at the Mahoney Recreation Center in Manchester.

Since then, five other unveilings have been scheduled, including ones in New Haven, Torrington and West Hartford.

Fairfield is one of eight towns that have local action teams for the murals, along with Stamford and Norwalk. Another 18 towns, including Westport, have expressed community member interest, according to RiseUp.

Each mural tends to include King, but the community can incorporate its own history into the piece as well.

“It’s very community-centric on how and who this mural will represent,” Conway said.

Lynnaija Brenard, president of the Fairfield Equity Coalition, and Conway brought the idea before the selectmen this week.

Brenard said the town is undertaking a number of inclusive initiatives and the mural complements that work.

“This is a really good kickoff to the upcoming year within Fairfield,” she said.

Planning for the mural is still in the early stages, including deciding where it will it go. A wall at the train state was the most popular idea raised at the meeting, but Conway said he will have to determine who owns the wall if it’s the final decision.

The approved murals are split fairly evenly between public and private walls, he said. If the wall is privately owned, then the project will most likely not come back before the selectmen. However their support will help the project as it advances, including securing funding, he said.

Each mural costs about $15,000. Half of the money usually comes from Sustainable CT with the community covering the other half, generally with donations or grants.

Most of that covers creating the mural itself, with the rest of the money set aside for nonviolence training and the unveiling ceremonies, which are livestreamed.

Conway said they his organization tries to get local artists to lead the project but there are a team of mural artists from the state at large if none of the Fairfield artists have mural experience. Selected Fairfield artists would still be involved in the project and be paid, just not as the lead artists if the team is used, he said.

“We want to find artists specific to that geography,” he said.

The typical timeframe is usually three to six months and the murals tend to last 15 to 20 years.

Selectman Thomas Flynn said it was important to have Fairfield’s history in the mural, based on previous pieces done in town.

First Selectwoman Brenda Kupchick and Selectwoman Nancy Lefkowitz both overwhelmingly supported the project.

“I think it’s a great idea,” Kupchick said. “It would be wonderful to have.”

Lefkowitz said it’s a great thing for the community, especially because arts have the power to heal.

“It’s amazing what some paint can do for the psyche for the community,” she said.