This digital submission showcasing the theme “Opera” was
created by 11th grade MMRHS student Elsa Letteron.
GREAT BARRINGTON — The Downtown Great Barrington Cultural District (DGBCD) plans to hang 24 student-designed lamppost banners on Main Street and Railroad Street beginning in June.
The cultural district defines the project as a “placemaking initiative.” The banners will feature local historic sites, events, and various cultural themes. “It is easy to miss what is in our own ‘backyard,’” said DGBCD Coordinator Laura Brennan. “This project invites [locals] — and all who view the banners — to take a moment to appreciate all we have surrounding us.”
Funding for this initiative will come from an annual Mass Cultural Council grant. Lamppost banners are both an effective and affordable way to connect the culture of the town with the community.
The project allows middle- and high-school-aged students to create thoughtful designs that focus on pre-selected themes ranging from the Mahaiwe Performing Arts Center to Native American Heritage. Students also have the opportunity to utilize alternate media, including photography, sculpture, collage, and any other forms with which they feel comfortable.
The initiative is directed by district member and longtime Monument Mountain Regional High School art teacher Neel Webber, who has assisted in Great Barrington’s annual Halloween window painting for 25 years, and was an obvious candidate to make the project a reality.
While there are 24 banners in total, 48 designs will be chosen, as each banner will feature a different image on each side. The banners are 36″x36″ in size, and Webber hopes to include a QR code on each one linking to the artist’s short biography, which will be hosted on the district’s website.
The artwork itself will not be created directly on the banners, but instead photographed and printed onto them. This will allow students to use media more freely and presents an opportunity for the banners to last longer. Webber predicts the banners to remain in town for four to five years.
Webber already has received over 30 submissions, but hopes to collect a few more before the May 10 deadline. Once all designs have been received, a small committee that includes Webber and four others will decide which works will be displayed. Decisions will be based on age, medium, and originality.
The district is still seeking designs for the themes of music, architecture, poetry/spoken word, Berkshire Community College, the Berkshire International Film Festival, and the Triplex Cinema, among others.
Webber and other Monument Mountain art teachers made the banner project an assignment for some classes, and also tracked down students they thought might interested. Webber said many of his art students “like to do their own thing,” but reminded them that having their art featured on community banners is great résumé material and, “in the real world, this is a way artists can make a lot of money.”
The project was presented in a way that allowed students to think about how they could “maintain [their] own artistic integrity, yet create something that’s interesting and dynamic for your community that they’re going to love and appreciate,” Webber said.
Monument student Megan Zeik, whose love of art began as a child, was eager to participate in this project. Her design highlights African American heritage and features Great Barrington native W.E.B. Du Bois and the colors of the flag of Ghana, where Du Bois took up residence in 1961. Zeik’s banner will also include hands of different ethnicities to represent the Black Lives Matter movement as “a way to link our history to current events.”
While the addition to her résumé will be appreciated, Zeik said, “My biggest hope is that my banner will not only inspire more people to learn about the African American history in Great Barrington, but possibly inspire more people to support racial equality and representation in places beyond Great Barrington.”
The banner designs will also bring a new sense of community to Great Barrington. Webber hopes the banners will introduce a feeling similar to that of the annual Halloween window painting project. He hopes locals and visitors alike will “walk around to look at the artwork and see what the students did, and really enjoy it.”
Students interested in participating in this project can contact Webber at firstname.lastname@example.org.