YARMOUTH – Whimsical stenciled paintings on the sidewalks and parking lots around Yarmouth could be a sign of things to come, as local arts backers are making a push for more public artwork in the coming years.
The ground-level artwork began in the summer of 2018 with dandelion seed heads casting feathery offspring to the wind. And, as dandelion seeds are wont to do, the stenciled artwork spread – to libraries, parks, and other public places in Yarmouth.
The paintings have been well received, said Lauren Wolk, associate director for the Cultural Center of Cape Cod. They’re attractive, cheerful, and easy to produce. Materials consist of stencils and spray paint, she said, with most of the work performed by volunteers. Individual stencils are approved by the Board of Selectmen, and funding comes from the Yarmouth Chamber of Commerce via the town’s Tourism Revenue Preservation Fund, which is derived from local hotel and meals taxes.
The first stenciling project, which included the dandelion heads extending from parking lot divider lines, along with filmstrips painted on the sidewalk at the Cultural Center on Old Main Street, proved that the paintings could survive the elements. The stencils held up beautifully through the winter, even surviving the sand and snow plows, Wolk said.
Additional artwork followed the dandelions. The latest project includes herons and schools of fish at Packet Landing. As arts projects go, the stencil work has been a resounding success. But it’s only a start, said Wolk, who wants to see more public artwork take hold in Yarmouth.
Executive Director of the Yarmouth Chamber of Commerce Mary Vilbon agrees. With previous experience in western Massachusetts (not far from the Berkshires and MassMOCA), Vilbon knows that a vibrant arts scene improves community aesthetics, attracts new visitors, and bolsters the local economy.
“Public art is a destination in itself. It can be inspirational, educational, refer to an event or time, or just allow someone to imagine. Communities across the state have embraced public art in their towns for years and it has been documented that there is a positive economic impact as well as a community investment,” said Vilbon.
Wolk described such a vision for South Yarmouth, near the Cultural Center of Cape Cod’s headquarters.
There has been a plan for years to create more of a village feel in South Yarmouth, near the intersection of Route 28 and Old Main Street, she said. The site is within walking distance of restaurants, a deli, lodgings, condos, shopping, the Bass River Farmers Market (in season), and Packet Landing Park – which now has a beautiful covered pavilion for public use.
It made sense to create a dozen or so art projects in that area to develop an attraction for visitors and residents, Wolk said. But $2.7 million in road construction coming soon to the intersections of Route 28, Old Main Street, North Main Street, and Station Avenue – along with a $17 million project to replace the nearby Bass River Bridge – combined to put a significant damper on any major art plans. Roadwork is expected to begin in 2021 and last about two years. A comprehensive arts project for that immediate area would be better timed when construction is finished, Wolk explained.
Wolk noted that small, individual projects could proceed, and she is genuinely excited about construction on the Bass River Bridge.
Planners with the Massachusetts Department of Transportation (MassDOT) have agreed to build pedestals that would display public artwork at either end of the new bridge, she said. However Project Manager Robert P. Antico, said it would be up to the towns to add the artwork after the bridge is complete.
Wolk envisions eye-catching sculptures of striped bass leaping out of the water as a visual tribute to the river’s name. She noted the so-called “Frog Bridge” in Willimantic, Conn., which features four copper sculptures of giant frogs, signifying the “Battle of the Frogs,” a local legend that dates back to the French and Indian Wars.
Yarmouth Town Planner Kathy Williams has worked closely with MassDOT and community stakeholders on the design of the bridge, making suggestions that allow for such artwork in the future. “We were able to provide our input during the planning stages that will provide not only a functional bridge, but one that will be aesthetically pleasing,” said Williams.
With an eye toward the future, Yarmouth is now looking to develop regulations that would facilitate artwork at public locations around town. The first step in this process is collecting information from other communities with successful public art programs. “We are looking at what other communities across the Commonwealth have implemented and will work with community partners to present a draft proposal sometime this year,” said Yarmouth Director of Community Development Karen Greene.
So for now, the parking lots and sidewalks underfoot will brighten the day of residents and tourists alike with fanciful artwork. But in the not too distant future, Yarmouth could be seeing even more public art.