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More than just a building: Live 155 offers public art

  • A mosaic by Christine Kenneally in the entrance of Live 155 on Pleasant Street in Northampton. STAFF PHOTO/VIVIAN MYRON

  • A series of panels painted by former Northampton High School students Erin Serio and Lindsey Crouss that will hang in the dumpster enclosure at Live 155. STAFF PHOTO/VIVIAN MYRON

  • Easthampton painter and muralist Pasqualina Azzarello works on her mural “Vital River” at Live 155 on Pleasant Street in Northampton. STAFF PHOTO/VIVIAN MYRON

  • Easthampton painter and muralist Pasqualina Azzarello works on her mural "Vital River" at Live 155 on Pleasant Street in Northampton. STAFF PHOTO/VIVIAN MYRON

  • Artist Peter Zierlein helps to lift his aluminum sculpture “THRIVE” before it is hung on the outside of Live 155 in Northampton. STAFF PHOTO/VIVIAN MYRON

  • Easthampton painter and muralist Pasqualina Azzarello works on her mural "Vital River" at Live 155 on Pleasant Street in Northampton. STAFF PHOTO/VIVIAN MYRON

  • Artist Peter Zierlein helps to lift his aluminum sculpture “THRIVE” before it is hung on the outside of Live 155 on Pleasant Street n Northampton. STAFF PHOTO/VIVIAN MYRON

  • Artist Peter Zierlein helps to lift his aluminum sculpture “THRIVE” before it is hung on the outside of Live 155 on Pleasant Street in Northampton. STAFF PHOTO/VIVIAN MYRON

  • Artist Peter Zierlein's giant aluminum sculpture “THRIVE” is lifted into the air outside of Live 155 on Pleasant Street in Northampton. STAFF PHOTO/VIVIAN MYRON

  • Really big public art! Artist Peter Zierlein poses in front of his sculpture “THRIVE” outside Live 155 on Pleasant Street. STAFF PHOTO/VIVIAN MYRON

  • Cassandra Holden, the public art consultant for Live 155, takes a photo of Peter Zierlein's sculpture “THRIVE” as it’s hung in place outside Live 155. STAFF PHOTO/VIVIAN MYRON



Staff Writer
Wednesday, September 12, 2018

Pleasant Street in Northampton has received a significant facelift in the past couple of years, ranging from new crosswalks and an extended bike lane, to new facades on older buildings, to new commercial and residential construction. Among the latter is Live 155, an apartment building and office space with a mix of affordable and market-rate units that opened in spring, replacing the former Northampton Lodging.

But Live 155, at 155 Pleasant, has more to offer than apartments and office space: It’s a place where public art is an important part of the structure.

From a huge aluminum sculpture adorning the outside of the building, to murals and mosaics in common areas on the inside, as well as other exhibits, art is a key ingredient in creating a sense of community for residents, according to participating artists and Live 155’s owners, Way Finders, the Springfield-based housing agency that oversees development of affordable housing in the state.

“The typical tenant isn’t necessarily looking to go to just an apartment every night,” said Amanda Bubon, director of compliance for Way Finders. ‘They’re looking for a sense of community and belonging with their neighbors and building a network around you. So, that’s something that Way Finders strongly encourages. We host events or [publicize] them to truly build a partnership.”

And Pasqualina Azzarello, who’s created an elaborate mural in the Live 155 stairwell, says public art can bring a new dimension to common spaces by giving artists an opportunity to share their ideas with many people.

“I think the choice to support local artists in creating a space where one can have a sense of belonging, a sense of home, is a really important component to [Way Finder’s] vision and practice,” said Azzarello, an experienced muralist who’s also Easthampton’s arts coordinator.

That public art, including work by Northampton High School students and Live 155 residents, will be get a full unveiling on Friday from 5 to 8 p.m. during the city’s monthly Arts Night Out.

Really big public art

During a humid afternoon in late August, a crane on Pleasant Street hoisted a more than 100-pound aluminum sculpture into the air outside Live 155. “THRIVE,” a piece that celebrates healthy living by Northampton artist Peter Zierlein, now serves as the front facade to the building.

Zierlein, an artist for some 26 years — among his work, he’s created illustrations for publications such as The New York Times and the Washington Post — said he was eager to design something when he heard about Way Finders’ call for public art submissions.

“I came up with a design that expresses healthy and comfortable living,” he said. “I think the Way Finder philosophy is to put people who are low-income or people who were homeless in their first home here.”

THRIVE offers imagery from nature, such as a cardinal perched above a fruit-bearing tree, intertwined with human figures; one image, for example, features a man carrying a rake and a woman with long, flowing hair holding a child.

The entire artwork is made of lightweight aluminum that’s been powder-coated in three colors — green, silver, and orange — which creates a multi-dimensional effect with a background, middle ground and foreground. Zierlein designed the piece, which was fabricated by Florence-based artisan metal workshop Salmon Studios.

“I chose the symbolism of what could be a family with children and a figure with a rake in hand — a tool that symbolizes that this person is taking care of their land and what’s around them,” he said.

“There are curious children smelling flowers and looking at fruit to show their interest in learning and nature, and a woman figure with a baby on her lap, again, to show family values, and that [Live 155] is a place where you can truly thrive.”

Inside Live 155, Azzarello has crafted a mural called “Vital River” that spans the full height of the building’s four-floor stairwell. The depiction of a river flowing up the stairwell creates a sense of openness combined with peaceful naturalistic imagery.

“As a public artist, I am always working in response not only to the physicality of the space, but the culture of the space,” Azzarello said. “Part of what constitutes the culture of a space are the people who will be experiencing the work.”

She said conversations with residents have helped to shape the vision and fabrication of her mural.

“Way Finders did not simply want imagery in the stairwell to brighten up the space,” she noted. “[The agency] also came with a charge to encourage people to use the stairs — to somehow introduce images as part of the design of the mural to encourage people to want to turn the corner and see what’s next.”

In the buiding’s lobby, meantime, there’s a glass mosaic, by artist Christine Kenneally, featuring flowing water and explosively colorful local fauna such as sunflowers, poppies, and morning glories. There are also black-and-white portraits of some people who once called this spot in town their home.

For about 40 years, what became known as Northampton Lodging, a boardinghouse originally opened in 1967 as a dormitory for a long-since-closed commercial college, had offered single occupancy rooms for low-income residents, some of whom lived there for years. The building, which then had an address of 129 Pleasant, was torn down in late 2016 and replaced by Live 155.

Before that demolition, photographer Paul Shoul and Cassandra Holden — she is the coordinator for the public art project at Live 155 — worked together to document the last days of Northampton Lodging. Many of the former residents were captured in portraits before they relocated, and now many of those photos have been installed in the first-floor lobby and offices of Live 155.

The building is now an artistic forum for some of its new residents, too. Estella Albion, 50, will have her paintings on display in the building during Arts Night Out. She creates large acrylic paintings of people in an attempt to express their individuality, using bursts of vivid color as well as watercolors and abstract art.

Albion said she moved to Massachusetts from Texas five years ago after her daughter graduated from Smith College. She’s an artist and a writer now that her children are adults.

“The location is fabulous and it’s nice to be in something so new and clean,” she said. “I love that it’s near the bike trail. So, it makes life in town much easier. It’s very accessible.”

Chris Goudreau can be reached at cgoudreau@gazettenet.com.