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Once Upon a Mural - Hoboken Mural Project

The Story Behind the Hoboken Community Mural Project

Early in January of 2005, Hoboken, New Jersey, began a year-long celebration of its Sesquicentennial. This square mile, was originally an island river park back in the early 1800's. Since then, Hoboken has evolved into the home of a thriving, diverse community of over 40,000 people. In honor of Hoboken's Birthday, one of the many events to mark this occasion, has turned out to be a very bright spot in its history - the Hoboken Community Mural Project.

The mural location choice was obvious to the many mural organizers, Mayor David Roberts, Director of Cultural Affairs Geri Fallo, and artists Justine Uva-Sgarmella, Stefanie Ashby and Carlos Azaceta. The 350 foot-long retaining wall (located between 4th and River Street and 5th and Frank Sinatra Drive) that supports Hoboken's Little League Field, is now also home to the HCMP (approximately 4500 square feet).

The two Creative Supervisors of the Project are Justine Uva-Sgarmella (mural organizer, artist and teacher) and Stefanie Ashby (mural organizer and local artist and ). They worked directly the students in creating the drawings that were then incorporated into the mural, Mayor David Roberts and Geri Fallo, Director of Cultural Affairs for Hoboken and Co-Chair of the Sesquicentennial Committee.

Artist Statements

For Justine Uva-Sgarmella, the idea originated from a childhood experience. As a teenager in Hoboken, residents were given the opportunity to paint positive images of Hoboken on large plywood boards. These paintings were placed together and became the back drop to the first River City Fair, held on the piers where the current Mural project is located. Back then, those piers were nothing but open space, and planking, but the view of Manhattan was still a glorious sight. Many people from all walks of life participated, and those images melded together into a fantastic array of what Hoboken could be. Everyone worked together and there was a true sense of community. That experience resonated with Justine and laid the groundwork for her participation in the HCMP.

As a youth growing up in California, Stefanie Ashby (mural organizer, artist and teacher), was exposed to 100s of murals (San Francisco and Los Angles areas). She recognized early on how important murals were to the urban landscape and the positive impact they can generate. Stefanie often dreamed of the opportunity to paint and participate in a community mural project. And the HCMP is proof positive that dreams do come true with lots of help, perseverance, and dedication. Stefanie believes whole-heartedly that this amazing collaboration of community, businesses, and city government will become a catalyst for other artistic projects that will improve the quality of life in Hoboken.

To help the students articulate their individual visions, Justine and Stefanie took the kids on several after- school and weekend field trips. The first of such trips was a visit to the Hoboken Library where Lena Podles and Adele Puccio graciously gave 20 of the mural children access to photographs, posters and books. The children began to draw what they felt was important and what was visually pleasing to them.

Then they met with Lenny Luzzi, Hoboken’s official Historian, who told a room full of children entertaining stories of Hoboken’s colorful history, its facts and gave us a sense of how many important events occurred here, as well as discussing the various famous people who were born here, or lived here.

Jim Hans, who began the Hoboken Historical Museum, heard about our project and donated historical posters for the kids to look at and draw from. Bob Foster, the current director of the Hoboken Historical Museum opened the doors to our kids, giving them the opportunity to draw from their varied images, and Carol Losos spent time answering questions and guiding them through Hoboken’s 150 year timeline.

Twenty different kids (ages ranging from 7-16) submitted drawings of what they felt most represented Hoboken to them. These drawings were then translated by Justine and Stefanie into a cohesive "cartoon" guideline for the wall imagery. And then after 9 months of work, Hoboken’s City Officials gave it their seal of approval.

The time finally came to begin the actual painting of the mural. It was then that the mural organizers faced their largest obstacle: securing the money for supplies. Geri Fallo, Director of Cultural Affairs in Hoboken, stepped up to bat and championed the search for funds. After months of calling and letter writing, she finally secured the monies and supplies through a variety of sources. They include: The Hudson County Division of Cultural Affairs (thanks to Director Bill La Rosa and County Executive Thom DeGise and the Board of Chosen Freeholders), Benjamin Moore Paint, Manny Ortega, from City Paint and Hardware and Danny Ganz & George Vallone of The Hoboken Brownstone Company, along with a very generous anonymous donor. Justine and Stefanie also secured donations of supplies through friends, volunteers and parents of children working on the project.

When the painting began, the joy and excitement these children exhibited was priceless. Watching the adult volunteers and parents, who were instrumental in bringing this project to fruition, helping the kids to create a beautiful mural for all of Hobokenites and visitors to enjoy, made every bit of hard work worth it. Onlookers, cheered the muralists, shouted out positive accolades, and smiles were seen every where. To witness families, friends, volunteers all working side-by-side was an extraordinary vision that surely will not be forgotten by all that were there.

Creating art as a group is an invaluable experience and results in more than a work of art. Each person who touches the project puts a little bit of themselves into the work, and what you see in its completion is a melding together of each painter. The Hoboken Community Mural Project fulfilled its promise to create an art project that truly celebrates community.