Main Streets Murals Connect People in Unexpected Ways

This Season of Giving we are highlighting how Brighton Main Streets and local businesses have helped our neighbors reconnect over the past year. Please consider supporting BMS with a small dollar donation to help make more community connections like these.

In 2021, the Brighton community was feeling a strong connection to our healthcare heroes and many sought to celebrate them publicly. Brighton Main Streets approached St. Elizabeth’s Medical Center with the idea to fund and collaborate on the installation of a 100 foot mural on the hospital’s retaining wall located on Cambridge Street. The mural would bring public art to the district while honoring local hospital staff. Brighton Main Streets issued an RFP for the project, which then-Boston University senior Sam Weinberger (a.k.a. Big Sam) saw in the ‘Opportunities’ section of a school newsletter.

“I was very fortunate for Brighton Main Streets to bring me onto the project and give me the creativity to propose my own idea that benefits everyone in different ways,” said Sam, whose business recently rebranded to Big Joy! Art. “Murals bring so much positivity and shift of mood to people on the street versus seeing a concrete wall. Relating it to portraiture and having real life healthcare workers made this super special.”

St. E’s worked hard to identify people of diverse backgrounds and roles at the hospital, recognizing the large multidisciplinary team it takes to help a patient get well and back home.

“It starts with the housekeeping team who clean and prepare rooms. Transporters for people who need wheelchairs or need a CAT scan. Physical and occupational therapists who see those recently out of surgery, making sure they’re ready for the home transition,” Kelly Katapodis from SEMC explained. “Respiratory therapists and nurse educators played a huge role this year with COVID. It was exciting to nominate people from different areas from the hospital and are central to the Brighton community. We did a recent analysis of our workforce and 5% are from Allston/Brighton. We’d love to hire more people from the neighborhood, and have job openings to fill at all skill levels. Hopefully this mural inspires people to apply.”

Bridging community spaces

Brighton Main Streets Executive Director Aidan McDonough had long wanted to bridge the gap “literally and figuratively” between the library space and Brighton Common, which hosts many events in the neighborhood. BMS commissioned local artist Kate Martens to paint a street mural on Academy Hill Road that incorporated key elements significant to the area. 

“It was empowering trying to take three different elements – the farmer’s market, the Common as an events and music venue, and the library – and make them all work together visually in one place,” she said.

Martens designed a “farmer’s market starting line” featuring fruits and vegetables, books, a guitar, and other shapes on a music staff all in bright colors on a white contrasting background. A volunteer freshman orientation program from Boston University was recruited to help with the project, using the experience as bonding between peers and getting to know their Brighton neighbors. Martens used stencils and collaborated with the students to decide exactly which pieces went where and what colors they should be.

“Art making is usually so solitary, so to have it be social and in a place that matters to me was extra special,” said Martens.”I went to school around here and remember feeling like Boston was such a big place but not venturing out of my college neighborhood. A lot of them were saying ‘we are gonna come back here and tell our friends’ and I just love that for Brighton.”

The art / work brings people further into community

As works of art, these murals will bring joy to Brighton-ites for a long while. But the work leading up to these finished pieces also helped people find connection with their neighbors.

“Brighton is such a great place to raise little kids. Because I have a toddler I’m at the library all the time,” said Kate Martens, who moved to Brighton Center in 2015. “I feel like I know the librarians better now. Even though I had seen them before, now they know who I am and I know who they are. It’s been a great connection point to be working in a public space, especially in your own neighborhood, and interact with people passing by. People really want to talk to you and understand what your goals are and what the outcome will be. I live right up the hill, so it’s basically my neighbors who are walking by.”

Kelly Katapodis had been working in Brighton just a few months when the mural project launched: “It was one of the first projects I started working on at SEMC. Especially coming into my role as Marketing Director and Director of Community Benefits, I appreciated a meaningful reason to get to know board members at Brighton Main Streets and folks at other institutions throughout the neighborhood.”

After graduating, Sam moved to Brooklyn, NY, but his artwork made such a large impact in Boston that he is already in talks for additional projects here. “I have such a passion for public artwork, it can’t really be put into words. It’s a visual language that speaks to communities in so many different ways.”

From college students to new wo in rkers and young families and lifelong residents, everyone loved these added touches of color in our neighborhood.

“I was thrilled to see healthcare workers honored for all their work throughout the years and during the pandemic,” said Rita Marrocchio, who is an Allston/Brighton resident for over 50 years, a current SEMC employee, and a member of Brighton Main Streets. “It truly takes a village to run a successful hospital and provide the high level of patient care that we are able to provide at St. Elizabeth’s.” 

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