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RI ARTS

First-ever Providence Public Housing murals pay homage to immigrants

The paintings, by artist Angela “AGONZA” Gonzalez, represent the past and future of the community, anchored by the present.

Angela "AGONZA" Gonzalez has a newly installed set of murals located at the Hartford Park housing development. This public art project is one of several taking place throughout the city as part of the Department of Art, Culture and Tourism (ACT) Public Art Residency.
Angela "AGONZA" Gonzalez has a newly installed set of murals located at the Hartford Park housing development. This public art project is one of several taking place throughout the city as part of the Department of Art, Culture and Tourism (ACT) Public Art Residency.Jonathan Wiggs/Globe Staff

PROVIDENCE — Providence artist Angela “AGONZA” Gonzalez was told that long ago, immigrants built the structures of the Hartford Park public housing projects. They built them strong, she said, and they filled the community that stretches through the western edge of the city.

Nearby streets are lined with bodegas, the Tikal Meat Market, and the greens of Merino Park. And though she lived for eight years in the Dominican Republic, this is the community where Gonzalez grew in and thinks of as home.

She was selected last year to take part of a public art residency with the city’s Department of Art, Culture and Tourism, and knew that she wanted to pay homage to the past.

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The two murals — newly painted, and unveiled on Friday — are at the Hartford Park housing development, and arranged to represent the past, present, and the future of her community.

The "past" mural by Angela Gonzalez is on display at the Hartford Park housing development.
The "past" mural by Angela Gonzalez is on display at the Hartford Park housing development. Jonathan Wiggs/Globe Staff

The first mural depicts an elderly person, to represent the immigrants who built Hartford Park. The image is enhanced by the city’s signature colors — blue and orange, fancifully included in the wings on the two butterflies. She is touching her face, and has a mask on— a true sign of the times.

The present is represented by a real playground, which is now connected to Merino Park, and is in the physical space between the two murals.

The "future" mural by Angela Gonzalez.
The "future" mural by Angela Gonzalez.Jonathan Wiggs/Globe Staff

The “future” is represented in a young girl, holding a bundle of sunflowers, wearing a blue shirt, with the same orange butterflies near her.

She said each mural took her just two days to paint.

While she was painting, Gonzalez said, kids from the neighborhood were coming up to her asking how she could paint something so big and how the figures were proportionate.

“And they would look up at me and say, ‘That looks like me.’ That made it even more special,” Gonzalez told the Globe. “Now they know that you can live here and do something big and inspirational, too.”

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She added, “We need to teach them how to be better people so that when we look in 10 to 20 years from now, we have a better generation to be respectful, understanding, and more open-minded.”

Micah Salkind, special projects manager for the city’s Department of Art, Culture and Tourism, said, “Our team had watched her public art career skyrocket after she painted an iconic portrait of a young woman proudly wearing her Afro and raising one fist to the sky in a Black-femme power salute.”

Salkind told the Globe that he could see Gonzalez’s power of art touch not just the communities in Providence, but communities across the nation.

Gonzalez said she tried to have her art teach people to be “communicative, but without sentences.”

More than 50 people gathered to watch Gonzalez join Mayor Jorge O. Elorza, Council President John Igliozzi, who represents the Hartford section of Providence, and others for the ribbon-cutting ceremony Friday.

“[Gonzalez] tells me these murals aren’t her first, but they’re the most meaningful to her,” said Elorza. “In every single one of our homes, we put pictures on the wall. We put up little pieces of art. They are meaningful things because it fills our homes with the kind of character we want to be a part of.”

He added, “The reality is that outside of our buildings, is the inside of our city. And in the exact same way, we want to hang our photos and beautiful mementos on the wall of this city.”

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Providence Housing Authority executive director Melissa Sanzaro said, “Gonzalez was one of the children the PHA served years ago. And now she is making magic here.”

Area residents cheered Gonzalez on while she spoke.

“I was an artsy person and my family wanted me to be a doctor. I said no, this is what I love,” said Gonzalez. “I’m going to prove that I can do this. You can be of color and do art.”


Alexa Gagosz can be reached at alexa.gagosz@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @alexagagosz.