Gov. Malloy pledges $1 million grant for Winsted’s American Mural Project [Register Citizen]

September 2, 2014

The Register Citizen

WINSTED >> Inside an old mill building off South Main Street, a colossus is under construction.

The behemoth is a creative work years in the making: the American Mural Project. Its construction is being spearheaded by Ellen Griesediesk, founder and lead artist of the project. It’s already completed, with the massive structure split in several pieces, many of which are already inside the building on Whiting Street in Winsted.

The project will be the world’s largest collaborative mural once it’s completely installed. Measuring a staggering 48-feet high by 120-feet long, the mural is the result of more than a decade of work. The scope of the work is equally vast: More than 10,000 children and adults from all 50 state have contributed to sections of the mural.

“It’s a tribute to the American worker,” Griesediesk said. “It’s a realization of this country’s work ethic, industry, ingenuity, and, involving kids, we are getting them involved in that awareness.”

The project needs $2.4 million to be completed. Despite the costs, it’s getting closer to its goal.

On Friday, Gov. Dannel Malloy announced during a press conference at the site that the state is pledging a $1 million matching grant if the project is able to raise at least $1.4 million before Aug. 31, 2015. The funds will help construct and renovate the space housing the project, which is expected to spur some economic growth from tourism for the town and region.

Malloy, standing in front of a section of the mural, said he liked the work because it pays homage to everyday Americans.

“We are here today to mark our efforts to construct northwest Connecticut’s newest national landmark. One that pays fitting tribute, as I’ve referenced, to working men and women of this country,” Malloy said.

Griesediesk said she was skeptical about someone investing in an artist’s project like hers, but she was determined, adding that she has made a believer out of the governor.

“We are at the tipping point right now,” Griesediesk said. “For the first time, thanks to the governor, we can see that this can happen, because once we make this match, we are on our way. And within nine months, I’m on a cherry-picker putting this thing up.”

The project will drive regional tourism and economic development, Malloy said. “We are talking about thousands of visitors annually that will contribute to the state and regional economy,” Malloy said. He said the visitors will eat at local restaurants, hotels and cafes, as he called out a local bar owner during his announcement as an example of one of the business that can benefit from the project.

The announcement’s ambition and the positive atmosphere it generated on Friday stands in sharp contrast to the town’s current municipal disfunction and fiscal uncertainty; multiple city officials have resigned within the last seven months and its board of selectmen recently suspended its town manager with intent to fire him. Mayor Marsha Sterling was not present at the announcement on Friday and did not return calls seeking comment.

State Rep. Jay Case, R-Winchester, spoke during the press conference and was joined by State Sen. Clark Chapin, R-New Milford, who also spoke briefly. Case said the complex, coupled with the nearby art shops and businesses, could have a formidable impact on the town’s economy.

“What Ellen has done to this building, to make this building the way it stands now—I mean if you go to many other buildings in the town, they’re falling down because they’re not heated, they’re not kept up,” Case said. “And she’s just really doing a positive thing for a town that really needs something positive.”

The mural depicts blue-collar laborers and white-collar workers. It features doctors, truckers, electrical maintenance workers and dairy farmers. Malloy said it wasn’t scheduled intentionally, but he said it was notable that announcement was made the weekend of Labor Day.

“I like everything that’s depicted,” Malloy said. “The American worker. The people who built this great nation.”

Winsted’s congressional representative, U.S. Rep. John Larson, D-1, said the project was the result of Griesediesk’s vision.

“This diminutive pepper pot, with so much energy and persistency and enthusiasm never, never gives up,” Larson said as he stood next to Griesediesk. “And that is so vitally important.”

Larson said he hopes to participate on a federal level to try and secure money for the project. He said it’s not easy to carry out such a task due to Congress’ current “dysfunctional period,” but he plans to do his part. Communities need to be funded, starting with infrastructure, he said.

“This is part of a human infrastructure that is equally, vitally important to moving a nation forward,” Larson said.

Case also said he plans on helping Griesediesk raise the $1.4 million the AMP needs. He said that when the town of Winsted gets the $1 million matching grant, the amount invested from the governor to the town will total more than $7 million.

“We will work with Washington and John Larson’s office to see what money we can get there because he says that it will impact that grant,” Case said.