Wesley College supports community art

One corner in the city of Dover is about to get a lot more colorful.

If all goes according to plan, in March work will get underway to tear down a rusting fence at the corner of Division and Kirkwood streets. In its place will be a vibrantly-hued mural whose design will be set by those living in the neighborhood.

The work not only will spruce up the city playground at the intersection, it will help build a strong sense of community, said Josh Nobiling, an assistant professor of art at Wesley College. Nobiling is shepherding the project along with Maggie Pleasant and Chanda Jackson of NCALL Research and the Restoring Central Dover initiative.

The idea, which came from a RCD community engagement residents’ work group, already has received unanimous approval from Dover’s city council.

“They wanted to bring more of the arts to Dover,” Jackson said.

An Illinois native, Nobiling holds bachelor’s and master’s degrees in Fine Arts, the latter granted in 2012 from the University of Delaware.

“This project is really allowing me to get engaged in the community, which is something I’ve wanted to do for years,” he said.

‘A ball of energy’

The idea is to replace the 85-foot-long chain link fence with a permanent 115-foot wooden privacy fence that would support the mural. The painting would be installed in removable sections, an arrangement that would simplify maintenance and any necessary repair work, Nobiling said.

“If any one of them gets damaged, we can simply remove it, bring it back to Wesley and repair it as needed,” he said.

To accommodate the mural, the new fence would be six feet in height, about one foot higher than the current one.

Nobiling wants to get as many people in the Kirkwood area community to take part in the project. The theme will be “Past, Present and Future;” in addition to making suggestions for the mural’s artwork, he also wants community residents to put their own personal touches on the project by volunteering to paint it as well.

One well-attended brainstorming meeting already has been held and another is scheduled for January 19, with everyone being encouraged to talk about ideas and even present their own artwork.

“Everyone was a real ball of energy,” he said of the earlier session. “We had ideas that ran the gamut of interests.”

Everyone gets an input

Under Nobiling’s guidance, ideas from the brainstorming sessions will be blended into a consistent design, and then refined into a final draft.

“It’s going to be a well designed, colorful work of art,” he said. “But it will go deeper than that. It will engage the Dover community; individuals will decide what goes on the mural.”

That draft will be presented to the council’s Parks and Recreation Committee before any work begins, he said.

Just about anything -- or any one -- related to Dover’s history can be part of the mural, he said. Ideas could include Dover founder William Penn, longtime mayor Crawford Carroll and James Hardcastle, the city’s first African American councilman.

The end result will be a mural that’s evocative of the neighborhood in which it is located and one its residents helped create, Nobiling said.

The project also will give Wesley art students a better change to interact with members of the community in which they’re living and give area residents the experience of working on a major art project.

“Participants will be receiving the same hands-on experience and expert fine art instruction that I provide for my students each semester,” Nobiling said as part of his Aug. 22 presentation to city council.

“You don’t need to have experience painting,” he said. “People can learn from me, and I’ll have my students invited as well.

“I don’t want anyone to think ‘I can’t do that because I’m not an artist,’” Nobiling said.

Similar plans have been tried before, Jackson noted, but were not as inclusive.

“A lot of times people didn’t get an input into a project like this,” she said. “This will allow them the opportunity to provide their input and have pride in a project as large as this.”

The mural idea is based on an idea already in practice in Philadelphia and Wilmington, Nobiling said.

The work will be done using facilities, equipment and supplies provided by Wesley College. Money to pay for the fence and the mural panels will come from NCALL or a grant previously provided by Wells Fargo. Once completed, the artwork will be protected with a double coating of an ultraviolet protective finish to keep the colors from fading.

City residents need contribute only their ideas and a little elbow grease, he said.

“This is going to be a fun project,” Nobiling enthused.