Chestnut Street murals
The mural on the Chestnut Street trestle.
PHOTO BY ERIN ROLL/STAFF

By ERIN ROLL
roll@montclairlocal.news

In 1996, it stood as a sign of hope in the face of gun violence.

Twenty-two years later, the mural beneath the Chestnut Street trestle bridge is faded, peeling and covered in graffiti. But a group of Montclair High School students want to revive it as a sign of the current climate of gun violence.

May Li and Aneekah Uddin, seniors at Montclair High School students in the Civics and Government Institute (CGI), are part of a group called Art to Action.

“Our mission is to fuse art with civic action,” Li said.

The group wants to paint a new mural centered on the theme of stopping gun violence.

“We want it to be a student effort; we want students to paint the mural,” Udin said.

The existing mural on the trestle dates back to the Montclair Day of Caring in 1996.

The year before, there had been a shooting at the Watchung Plaza post office. Four people died in the shooting and one other person was injured.

The Never Again movement sparked by the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting in February has inspired the group of high schools students.

The group is scheduled to start visiting paint stores to get an estimate on paint, primer and other supplies. The mural will also have to have a clear coat of varnish applied to protect it from weather and graffiti.

Li and Uddin expect that the mural may cost somewhere in the four figures to create, depending on the cost of materials.

On Saturday, Art for Action sat up outside the Kings grocery store in Upper Montclair with a collection jar. The group also has a GoFundMe page and a designated Facebook page.

One conceptual design involves an image of six students standing side by side, backs to the viewer: three with backpacks on, and three with targets on their back. The community may be invited to make painted handprints on the mural once it is completed.

The trestle belongs to NJ Transit, so the mural project can only move ahead with NJ Transit’s approval. The students have been meeting with NJ Transit officials over the last several months.

If NJ Transit gives its approval, there will be two murals: one each on both sides of the trestle. The goal is to start one mural in the fall and do the second one in the spring.

Art to Action appeared before the council earlier this month to discuss the mural.

“They’re really excited about the project and they were excited to see us,” Uddin said. The council discussed some safety issues related to the mural. The council suggested having Chestnut Street blocked off while students are working on the mural, and to check the football schedule and other events in the area when planning a painting schedule.

The approval process takes a long time. “This is the most amount of emails we’ve written,” Uddin said. However, NJ Transit has been helpful on the matter, Li said.

For the future, Li and Udin said Art for Action perhaps would like to work with local authorities on creating a straightforward approval process for artists looking to do art on public property. As it is, there isn’t currently a single list of township authorities and other groups that artists need to contact before doing a piece of public art.

Montclair is a town that is home to many artists, as well as a town that is known for being socially and politically conscious, Li and Uddin said, and Art to Action’s mission is symbolic for where those two avenues intersect.

“All we want to do is really promote art in Montclair,” Li said.

For more information on the project or to donate, visit https://www.gofundme.com/chestnut-street-mural

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