American Mural Project pushes forward through the pandemic

Photo by Peter Brown.
Photo by Peter Brown.

WINSTED — The COVID-19 pandemic has put a halt to many major projects and initiatives across the country due to its impact on face-to-face programming and its economic toll.
However, despite the many challenges brought on by the virus, the American Mural Project (AMP) has found ways to carry on, and even succeed in the bizarre environment of 2020.
AMP is many years-long mural initiatives located in two former mill buildings on Whiting Street. When fully completed, the mural will honor working Americans and reach five stories high and 120 feet wide.
While most of the panels of the mural have been completed, the mural is still building towards its full installation alongside renovations to allow better views of the massive art piece.
After 18 years of work, the latest estimation of the mural’s full completion is 2022.
Amy Wynn, executive director of AMP since fall 2018, told The Winsted Phoenix about the AMP’s challenges and triumphs during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“I consider us somewhat fortunate in that we were not full-blown open in the way other museums and arts organizations are,” Wynn said. “So when we had to shut down, we didn’t have that burden and that sad message to give to a large number of employees in terms of layoffs.”
In early December, AMP returned to its first in-person tours in the building since the pandemic hit, limiting tour groups to a size of 16 people, requiring masks, and asking visitors to maintain social distancing guidelines while learning about the mural. While the event drew success and high participation, tours have again been paused indefinitely due to rising cases of COVID-19.

Photo by Michelle Fenton Begley

Despite AMP’s ability to resist employment cuts, keeping the organization going has not been without its challenges, according to Wynn.
“We did have to curtail and cancel some of our educational programs for our contracted teaching artists, which was very unfortunate,” Wynn said. “When COVID hit, our last tours were in February, and the momentum of building that type of market base was stopped. It becomes very difficult to raise money because you’re not in front of people. You’re not reminding them about your value, economically and culturally and educationally and socially.”
While the mural is a core component of AMP, the organization also prides itself on the variety of educational programming the project has put on since the summer of 2018. Aimed at students from kindergarten-age up through college, the program aims to bring art to individuals of all ages. At the beginning of the pandemic, the project also showcased local workers as part of its “Work Matters” social media campaign.
“We continue to test and pilot new programs and if they are of value and prove to be met with enthusiasm, then you know we formalize those and move on from there,” Wynn said. “What we have learned from COVID, is how to offer virtual programs engagingly. So, this fall, after a pilot this summer, we have an offer right now three different virtual art programs.”
At its core, Wynn says that AMP’s mission is to honor the everyday workers in Connecticut and beyond who keep our country running — a message that is particularly salient in our current time of crisis.
“We’re always trying to remind everyone that workers are the ones who matter,” Wynn said. “There’s no shame in driving the snowplow, there’s no shame in bagging groceries, it’s something to be proud of and valued. We need those jobs, everybody needs those jobs, they’re needed in our communities. The message of the mural is resonating with people.”

Photo by Michelle Fenton Begley

For more information about AMP go to its website at this link.

Cady Stanton is a freelance journalist based in Colebrook, Conn. A graduate of Georgetown University, she has previously published articles in The Hill, The Hoya and Washington Monthly.

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