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‘Arts on Main’ Brightens West Hartford’s South Main Street

Arts on Main 2019. Photo credit: Lauren Cohen

The third year of Arts on Main, a project started by Bristow Middle School art teacher Kelly Smurthwaite, showcases the talent of West Hartford’s youth in the form of welcome banners in the Center.

Arts on Main 2019. Photo credit: Lauren Cohen

By Lauren Cohen

South Main Street in West Hartford has been looking a little more cheerful than normal recently, thanks to featured artwork from West Hartford Public Schools students.

As part of the Arts on Main project, the town’s normal welcome banners were removed and replaced them with colorful ones showcasing artwork from all different grades and schools along a stretch of South Main Street from Burr Street to Farmington Avenue.

The display includes 22 banners with art from all 16 schools in West Hartford – up from the 15 banners and 13 schools that participated in 2018. It showcases the talent of local youth as well as the town’s dedication to the arts, something that organizers believe should be proudly shown off.

This is the third year of Arts on Main, a project brought to fruition by Kelly Smurthwaite, a long-time art teacher in West Hartford Public Schools. Starting at Duffy and  moving on to Hall and Bristow, Smurthwaite left traces of her involvement in the schools and around town in the form of art. A repeat participant in West Hartford’s beloved cow parade and similar events in neighboring towns, Smurthwaite has a soft spot for local art showcases, which is why when she saw a similar display to Arts on Main in another town while traveling, she thought, “Wow, that’s a great idea,” and knew she had to bring it back to West Hartford.

The project started off on a smaller scale, with Bristow students from Smurthwaite’s Art Club painting directly onto welcome banners to hang in the Center. Unfortunately, these banners did not hold up as well as desired, with no protection from exposure to the elements.

The Arts on Main is a collaboration between West Hartford Public Schools and the Municipal Parking division of West Hartford Public Works. Operations Manager, Brooke Nelson, was so excited about the idea when she saw the first showcase in 2017. She dove right into the operation for 2018, getting real vinyl banners for Smurthwaite to use and printing pictures of the art onto the plastic instead of painting directly onto it.

The 2018 display was better than the previous year’s but still not quite what Smurthwaite had envisioned, so this year Nelson saw to it that the art teachers and Board of Education graphic design department worked together to take professional pictures of the art for the banners.

The results could not have turned out better.

Nelson says she is “floored” everytime she sees the art, and loves how it brings families to the Center.

Speaking fondly of Smurthwaite, who is retiring in June, Nelson told We-Ha.com, “You can’t write this piece without talking to Kelly … I think it’s going to be her legacy.”

The way that Smurthwaite talked about the Arts on Main proved this to be true – there was so much passion and excitement for art and for her students in her words.  

Smurthwaite hand-picked the art chosen for the display, all of which was sent in by participating art teachers from the various schools. She liked this task, and it made her proud to see what even the youngest students in town were capable of.  

The art used all mediums, with “no limitation at all because it’s photographed,” said Smurthwaite.

It wasn’t always the “best” art that she ended up choosing, she confided. “Sometimes I pick people’s work that they don’t necessarily think of themselves as an artist. It’s powerful to be chosen.”

Smurthwaite said this is “absolutely” her favorite part of the project. She loves seeing how proud the students are to see their artwork hung up in the center of town, no matter what grade they are in.

“For any level It’s powerful when you walk down to see your artwork up there,” she said. “It gives the kids a boost of ‘Oh hey I’m an artist, I can do this.’”

Smurthwaite reminisced about when she was a kid and was chosen to paint on a window in her town center. It was “so powerful” for her to drive by and see her art up there for everyone to see. “I thought, ‘I could be an artist!'” she recalled.

Although Smurthwaite is sad to be leaving West Hartford, a town that ranks high in her heart, she knows she will “stay involved in the arts” when she moves out west this summer.

The Arts on Main banners will remain hanging on the light posts through the fall, so that West Hartford families and visitors will have a chance to get down to the Center and admire them. They will then be donated to the Arts Department, and students will have to opportunity to take their art home.

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Photo by Lauren Cohen

Photo by Lauren Cohen

Photo by Lauren Cohen

Photo by Lauren Cohen

Photo by Lauren Cohen

Photo by Lauren Cohen

Photo by Lauren Cohen

Photo by Lauren Cohen

Photo by Lauren Cohen

Photo by Lauren Cohen

Photo by Lauren Cohen

Photo by Lauren Cohen

Photo by Lauren Cohen

Photo by Lauren Cohen

Photo by Lauren Cohen

Photo by Lauren Cohen

Photo by Lauren Cohen

Photo by Lauren Cohen

Photo by Lauren Cohen

Photo by Lauren Cohen

Like what you see here? Click here to subscribe to We-Ha’s newsletter so you’ll always be in the know about what’s happening in West Hartford!

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Lauren Cohen

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