HACKENSACK – A detailed black-and-white spray-painted portrait of Chief Oratam, the 17th Century leader of the Hackensack Native American tribe, stared out onto Main Street as an expanding mural-in-progress emerged, panel by panel, bearing scenes from the city’s past and present, and a possible future.
The new paintings are by artists selected by the Hackensack Creative Team this summer, who this week began painting five separate but connected murals on the 8-foot-tall wooden construction fences at 76 Main St.
Organizers hope that the project will spark local interest in the arts, and help beautify the downtown amid construction in the ongoing downtown redevelopment.
The murals comprise dozens of connecting panels; they surround the site of a 10-unit apartment building and former home of the Choripan Rodizio restaurant, which was destroyed in an April fire.
It is the first visible arts project to emerge from a new creative team that was organized and supported by a local business group.
Last year, the Main Street Business Alliance, a group of property owners along Main Street, paid for a consultant to help organize a volunteer creative team to guide arts projects in the city. The mural project was the first such endeavor by the team.
The panels are movable, and the group plans later to put them up at other construction sites in the downtown.
Eric Anderson, owner of 76 Main, said he has met initially with the city and is proposing a 24-unit apartment building with ground-floor retail space. Fencing will be up during construction until April or longer, he said.
The Alliance promotes residential and business redevelopment along the Main Street corridor. Alliance Chairman Jerome Lombardo has emphasized that arts are a “vital component” to any successful downtown redevelopment.
The Alliance paid $6,000 to hire the five artists and cover the cost of supplies.
Stephanie O’Connor, a local artist and president of The Artistic Giraffe, an arts studio a few blocks away on Main Street, pointed out locally influenced portions of her part in the mural panels, on the opposite end from the portrait of chief Oratam.
In a swirl of psychedelic artistry reminiscent of the Beatles’ “Yellow Submarine” album cover, crying and laughing theater masks hover above a multi-colored depiction of the Hackensack River with a giant comet in the sky, an homage to the Hackensack High Comets.
O’Connor said she was thrilled when she first learned about the new arts initiative. “I had an explosion of ideas” she said.
The hope is that the attention-grabbing art of the murals will inspire residents to get involved in local arts, said Michael Shannon, president of the non-profit Northern New Jersey Community Foundation. The foundation established Arts Bergen and is promoting creative teams in the area.
City Manager David Troast said on Friday that the city is seeking grants to develop an “Arts Walk” that would run from the NJ Transit Bus Terminal on River Street to Main Street, ending near the Atlantic Street Park near the Hackensack Performing Arts Center. It could include a redone sidewalk, sculpture and murals, he said.
On Friday afternoon, Monica Chavarria painted small sections of her sweeping section of the mural, which included children playing before a backdrop of the historic Anderson Street train station, the Bergen County Courthouse and the First Reformed Dutch Church, the “Old Church on the Green.”
Chavarria, 45, of Teaneck, incorporated life-size images of a mother and father with two children standing together in the hopes that passersby might pose for photos with the art.
She spent the early part of the week drawing the scene. She wasn’t there when someone “interacted” with the art by writing on it, in black cursive lettering, “Maria, Te Amo,” or “Maria, I love you” in Spanish. But Chavarria smiled and decided to incorporate the message, drawing a red heart outline around the words.
As the artists painted, jets roared overhead leaving Teterboro Airport and fire trucks blared down Main Street, courthouse co-workers Marla Miller and Evelyn Shimazu stopped to admire the work.
“I love it,” Miller said. She grew up in Hackensack and now lives in Teaneck. “I see this as something to brighten your day.”