Stonewalled

27 Feb

Mural due to be painted over at Starbucks; revised design wasn’t brought to landlord

March 1 could see return to blank wall at Massachusetts Avenue shop

Lesley University artists Gary Chen, Ellie Lukova and Percy Fortini-Wright paint a mural on the Starbucks at Shepard Street and Massachusetts Avenue last fall.
Lesley University artists Gary Chen, Ellie Lukova and Percy Fortini-Wright paint a mural on the Starbucks at Shepard Street and Massachusetts Avenue last fall. (Photo: Timothy Dungan-Levant)

The colorful mural at Massachusetts Avenue and Shepard Street depicting ethnically diverse students and nearby academic landmarks will be painted over early in March. The alfresco painting, done by Lesley arts students through a collaboration by Starbucks and the Committee for Art on the Avenue, had become a point of contention between Starbucks and Stone Investment Holdings, which owns the building that houses the coffee franchise, the trending eatery Shepard and other retail and food fronts.

The reason for the impending eradication comes because of a “miscommunication” with the landlord, for which Starbucks takes responsibility. The coffee giant initially reached out to the community with an in-house mural idea, but was engaged by the neighborhood to do something more “local.” Starbucks spokeswoman Holly Hart Shafer admitted that its lease requires approval from the city and landlord for changes to the exterior of the building, and the company didn’t follow through with the landlord on the second proposal after the first had been approved.

A utilities box on the sidewalk was incorporated into the artwork.
A utilities box on the sidewalk was incorporated into the artwork. (Photo: Timothy Dungan-Levant)

The landlord announced in November its intent to have the painting removed, barely a month after the several-day labor of love by Ellie Lukova, Gary Chen and Percy Fortini-Wright had dried. Ruth Ryals, co-chairwoman of the Committee for Art on the Avenue and committee member Stan Trecker, along with personnel from Starbucks, said they worked to spur a dialogue with the landlord and its attorneys, but those attempts proved unfruitful. In response, the artists and the Committee for Art on the Avenue started a petition that was signed by more than 600 people. City councillors were brought into the mix, and a Change.org campaign was launched.

“I’ve spent the last few months trying to understand how this could happen,” Ryals said.

Repeated requests for comment about the community effort were made to Stone Investment’s registered agent, Nancy-Stephanie Stone and her acting property managers, but were not returned.

Ryals remains optimistic about art finding its place on the stretch of Massachusetts Avenue between Harvard and Porter squares. The committee – part of a streetscape improvement collaboration among city, community and institution that includes representatives from the Maud Morgan Arts Center, Abodeon, Lizard Lounge, Giulia and Harvard and Lesley universities – have also brought together such neighborhood-enriching events and works as the “Play Me I Am Yours” pianos in 2013 and new sidewalk planting and seating arrangements.

The mural may be painted over as soon as March 1, possibly with a New Orleans-style sendoff. (Photo: Timothy Dungan-Levant)
The mural may be painted over as soon as March 1, possibly with a New Orleans-style sendoff. (Photo: Timothy Dungan-Levant)

“I totally applaud the positive intentions and significant work that went into the development of the Shepard Street Mural. The partnership between residents, local businesses and, especially, Lesley University College of Art and Design [students and affiliates] and the Committee for Arts on the Avenue was impressive and deep,” said Jason Weeks, executive director of the Cambridge Arts Council. “It seems a great shame to lose this delightful and beautiful expression of that engagement.”

Not all views of the mural have been adoring. Several dissenters on neighborhood list serves and social media voiced displeasure.

The one shining light, as Shafer points out, is that a copy of the mural will be erected for display inside the coffee shop to celebrate and enshrine the effort and vision.

But it may be gone from the exterior wall as soon as March 1, as Ryals understands it. She hopes to have a New Orleans-style funeral dirge if timing allows.

Starbucks, which is charged with painting over the mural, hasn’t confirmed the date but said the work requires a stretch of good weather with favorable temperatures near 50 degrees. With temperatures fluttering unseasonably high late in February, the last few days of the month may be an opportune time to drop by to see the mural on Shepard Street before its vibrance is reduced to monotone cinder blocks.

 

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