Restaurants in Newton have taken a creative approach to keep their doors open and their customers safe in the COVID-19 era. Some Newton restaurants have utilized jersey barriers to safely create outdoor seating in parking spaces outside of their establishments.
The Newton Al Fresco project was created by the Newton Cultural Development Office of the Parks, Recreation, and Culture office in an effort to help, support, and revitalize restaurants that have been shut down by COVID-19 regulations. Outdoor seating became an avenue for restaurants to increase capacity while adhering to the state’s safety guidelines for dining.
“Working with our Health and Human Services Department, the Planning Department, and local restaurants found that outdoor seating became vital to their ability to continue to survive through the pandemic,” said Director of Newton Cultural Development Paula Gannon.
The only problem was that many restaurants in Newton do not have outdoor seating—enter the barriers. Using concrete jersey barriers, Thistle & Leek, Sycamore, House of Tandoor, Baramor, Farmstead Table, Buttonwood, LeDu Thai, Cook., Grapeleaf, and George Howell Coffee were able to add outdoor seating to their restaurants.
While the barriers provide a safe outdoor space for restaurant guests to enjoy their food, some Newton residents thought the naked barriers were aesthetically pleasing so Gannon contacted local Newton arts organizations in order to paint the barriers.
“We’re just a very vibrant, artistic, and cultural community,” Gannon said. “It was pretty easy for me to tap into this and get people to come forward to help, and I’ll tell you they came running. It was really great to see how everyone was willing to support our community.”
Gannon assembled 23 local artists to paint 10 local businesses and divided them into smaller groups assigned to each paint site. One painter at each site was responsible for the overall design of that particular site’s barriers.
“The artists themselves have contacted the restaurant owner or general manager or whoever would be in charge of the project and they developed a design that was both pleasing to the restaurant” Gannon said “we tried to keep things nice and cheery, using geometric shapes and something that may tie into the overall theme of the restraint if that was possible.”
Supplies for the project were donated by Schwartz Ace Hardware—Nonantum, Sherwin Williams Paint—Newton Centre, and Newton City Councilor Alicia Bowman. Newton Community pride gathered and distributed to each team of artists at a Newton Parks and Recreation facility.
Al Fresco painters Grey and Leslie Held painted two sets of barriers in Newtonville. Leslie is a costume designer, and Grey is a poet and visual artist. Grey has been involved in Newton public arts projects in the past, such as the “Make Poetry Concrete” project to stamp poems on the sidewalks of Newton.
Since the paint was donated, only certain colors were available, which Leslie said created a challenge. The barriers that the Helds painted feature Leslie’s doodles, including colorful dots, striped patterns, and flowers.
“Those jersey barriers are pretty ugly, and especially since they have been used many times before,” Leslie said. “So it just makes a nice little enclosure, that you actually feel like you’re sitting in a restaurant and not in the middle of the street.”
The process of painting the barriers took three days. In order to maintain social distance, the barriers were painted during hours that the restaurant was closed. Since both sides of the barriers were painted, the artists also had to be mindful of traffic.
“I think it’s a way to involve the community and bring a smile to people’s faces,” Grey Held said. “When you’re driving along and see something bright in the street, it’s a real pick-me-up.”
Christina Hasjoy is another artist who painted one set of four jersey barriers located outside of the restaurant Grape Leaf. Hasjoy is involved in the Newton Arts Alliance and is a mixed media artist and photographer.
Hasjoy worked on a team of other artists to paint an image of grape leaves and vines on the barriers. The painting process took them five days.
“The people that work at this restaurant and the people in the stores are totally pumped to have something prettier than a jersey barrier sitting there,” Hasjoy said.
Hasjoy talked about the therapeutic nature of the art process. She said she enjoyed the sense of accomplishment from the opportunity to create art with others.
“One of the really cool things that has come out of this project is the notion that the residents of Newton at large are really excited about community-based public arts projects,” Hasjoy said.
Hasjoy said that Newton Cultural Development is now looking to expand public art projects in the community due to the positive feedback from residents in the community.
Featured Image Courtesy of Grey Held