The Avenue Concept Mural Program

Working to build connections in Providence between local, national, and international public art and communities

Contemporary mural artists often begin their journey as graffiti and street artists learning to work in adverse environments with limited materials and at a large scale. These artists later meld this skillset with those of fine art and international influences to generate the majestic murals celebrated by the public today. 

TAC’s Mural Program is similarly anchored in the local graffiti and arts community, and it remains influenced by its leaders’ experiences in the international street art world. The Program continues to strive to meld the best of local, national, and international art forces through mural work here in Providence.

Early years supporting graffiti art

Before establishing the Mural Program, TAC’s founder and executive director Yarrow Thorne sought to bring together color, community, and artistic expression in undervalued spaces. In 2012, Yarrow sought to remove barriers and provide legal space for graffiti writers to work, working with the city to facilitate works on approved surfaces. What emerged were multicolor works full of layers, depth, and unique style. Rather than being decried as vandalism, these works were celebrated by many members of the public as contemporary art.


Legal walls at The Avenue Concept, 2012


TAC’s early mural work: from graffiti to fine art and community art

In the following years, TAC’s mural work began to incorporate fine art and community art projects. This included work for the Rhode Island Department of Transportation on a Westminster underpass in 2012, which was created with the theme of Earth Day.


DOT Westminster underpass mural, Earth Day, 2012


In 2013, TAC executed its first mural in partnership with the Providence City Council for Ward 6. The mural project was also the first to engage three artists: Greg Pennisten, Jennifer Rydwansky, and Danny Seliger. The project brought a new level of rigor to TAC’s mural production process, including detailed sketching, topic research, and materials research. It was also the first mural that was paired with a utility box on the street, expanding the footprint of the exhibit and encouraging viewers to take novel perspectives in exploring the artwork.


2013 TAC mural project for Ward 6 with PVD City Council


In 2014, TAC implemented the Watershed Mural, TAC’s hitherto largest mural, which was created as part of a community workday. Led by artist Nick Guilbert, volunteers blocked out and prepared a prominent space for the mural situated near Watershed’s work, which was also visible from the bike path connecting Johnston and Providence. Linked to Watershed’s 20 year work of rebuilding fish ladders to bring fish upriver to spawn and clean the river, Guilbert’s design depicted fish native to the river and actual parts of the river.


Nick Guilbert, Watershed Mural, 2014


That same year TAC also produced its first utility box mural project and walking tour together with local artists Justin Case, Jennifer Rydwansky, Dylan Lagory, and Nick Guilbert. In transforming mundane elements of the urban environment into a network of art, TAC began its effort to encourage people to see the city and move through it in new ways. 

In Yarrow’s words, “I think the biggest impact the Avenue has is not really about the organization. It’s about all the other community members and the City.” He sees TAC’s ongoing work in Providence as part of a bigger process. “Deep down, I have always felt that Providence is a great ecosystem that has yet to see its prime, and I want to support that awakening – that point when the creative community really has some weight, the public can really speak, and that art is not a byproduct, but rather a part of everyday life.”


Utility box walking tour created with local artists Justin Case, Jennifer Rydwansky, Dylan Lagory, and Nick Guilbert, 2014


From Providence to Vienna and back

TAC’s Mural Program’s manager, Nick Platzer also grew up in an oasis of graffiti. In Providence in the late 1990s, spots such as the RISD tunnel, the Masonic Temple, and many abandoned buildings were havens for graffiti artists to work, learn, collaborate, and develop their craft. Nick took his experience with these environments together with his burgeoning knowledge of the street art movements around the world with him to Vienna, Austria, where he established the INOPERAbLE Gallery – the first gallery in the city dedicated to the street art world.

The INOPERAbLE Gallery became another notable stop within the integrated European network of destinations for street artists to work. Through the gallery, Nick worked with some of the biggest names in street and mural art, including Nychos, Aryz, and Bezt, bringing them to Vienna to create works in a space that was relatively new to contemporary street art. Nick worked with the city to develop processes for approval and implementation of mural projects, helping to pave the way for additional galleries and artists.

In 2014, Nick returned to Providence and connected with Yarrow, setting in motion the beginnings of the newly founded Avenue Concept’s deep dive into mural creation for Providence.

Building the TAC Mural Program

Yarrow and Nick’s first mural project together was set on The Avenue Concept’s headquarters on Lockwood Street and spoke directly to its home community of South Providence. Having recently worked with Miami-based muralist and street artist EVOCA1 who hails from the Dominican Republic, Nick asked him to come to Providence to create the work. 

Given the large Latinx community in the neighborhood, many of whom share EVOCA1’s Dominican heritage, he was inspired to react to the struggles he saw around him. The artist tends to leave his art open for interpretation, but themes of drugs and addiction are evident in this piece, a direct response to their outsized presence in underserved communities like South Providence. Despite the challenging subject matter, the reactions of neighbors who passed by every day during the painting of The Host revealed that what stood out most were its beauty and creativity.


EVOCA1, The Host, 2014


After EVOCA1’s mural, The Avenue Concept set out to bring public art through mural work on an even bigger scale, establishing the mural international residency program. Artists like Shephard Fairey had been doing celebrated mural work in Providence with AS220, but Providence hadn’t fully embraced the potential of developing a mural portfolio.

At that time, no organization was working locally to specifically support the required skill set to work at very large scales and under the time pressure that typically comes with large scale mural projects due to equipment, safety, and resource needs. Because of these limitations, Nick leveraged his international connections built during his time in Vienna to bring artists to Providence and help cultivate the city as a destination for work and collaboration with the local scene.

For its next projects in 2015, The Avenue Concept worked with Polish artists BEZT and Natalia Rak. BEZT created the mural She Never Came in downtown Providence, which distills a story of unrequited love into a single moment. Its photo-like quality evokes BEZT’s admiration for Norman Rockwell, while the surrealism of the rat pays homage to the street art tradition of Basquiat. Natalia Rak created Adventure Time, which exemplifies her fascination with technicolor, playful, exaggerated scale, and framing a story within her art. She says she felt “the magic of a large surface,” which is visible in the surreal psychedelia of the world the girl is poised to enter.

Some ask about the value of bringing in international artists rather than exclusively working with local artists. While TAC does a large portion of its work with local artists, it continues to believe in the value of international partnerships and connections to stimulate the exchange of cultural and economic vitality. 

As Nick Platzer describes, “By expanding the portfolio and supporting projects with both local and international artists you support a conversation, fostering access to new influences and ideas— the international exhibiting artists who’ve worked here with TAC have huge followings, who bring exposure to Providence, and local artists benefit from that on multiple levels.”


BEZT, She Never Came, 2015

Natalia Rak, Adventure Time, 2015


From here, the Mural Program would go beyond mural production to foster deeper connections between local, national, and international artists.

Stay tuned as the story continues in an upcoming post.