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Artists hit the streets to boost Newton’s outdoor dining scene

Newton-based artist Harun Zankel paints the word “together” onto a jersey barrier in Newton Centre.Gloria Gavris

The city’s outdoor dining program, Newton Al Fresco, has expanded for its second year with the help of local artists and Newton Community Pride. The on-street and communal dining project began last spring to boost outdoor dining during the pandemic.

Newton Community Pride Chair Gloria Gavris said they recruited 10 local artists to paint bistro tables and jersey barriers using a floral theme. The bistro tables were upcycled from wooden spools donated by Eversource Energy, she said, and her group also provided umbrellas and lighting for dining areas.

Corporate sponsors and individual donors fund the nonprofit, which awarded thousands of dollars in stipends for artists who participated in the project, Gavris said.


“Artists are really hurting during COVID,” Gavris said. “It was important to reach out to them and give them some compensation for their talents and color and creativity.”

Newton-based graphic designer and art director Harun Zankel was invited to participate in the project after hearing about it from mutual friends who were involved with the team at Newton Community Pride.

Zankel, whose art is focused on lettering and typography, said he designed and painted several jersey barriers in Newton Centre. He said his typical process is to first start with research on the area and the subject, and then move on to thinking about inspirational phrases and words.

Zankel said his art should bring people joy and “maybe even a chuckle.” For his project in Newton Centre, Zankel said he chose the word “together.”

“Now that we’re getting past COVID a little bit, we’re spending more time together and gathering together in social spaces,” Zankel said.

Zankel said he chose the Brush Script font for his piece because of its energy and rhythm, which he hopes to bring into the area.

A jersey barrier is far from a traditional paint canvas, but Zankel said the various surfaces work for lettering. He said he applied the design to the barriers using gridding — an overlay of the word he wanted to paint, and the whole process took approximately three hours.


The project will hopefully expose Newtonians to different artwork styles, Zankel said, and make them feel welcome.

“It’s really going to enrich the social life in Newton, because more artwork is just better for people to feel connected with each other and with the community,” Zankel said.

Raquel Fornasaro, a Newton-based artist who worked on benches and spools — now used as bistro tables — in Newton Highlands, said this is her first time working on a public art project.

Fornasaro immigrated from São Paulo to Newton and said she fell in love with the green spaces in the city when she moved here. However, Fornasaro said she thinks recent housing developments have changed the landscape in Newton — an inspiration for her public artwork.

“They usually demolish and they cut everything, and it’s all gone,” Fornasaro said.

Fornasaro said she strives to use color to create a cheerful environment, especially for children.

Artist and middle school art teacher Sarah Tomkins, who painted some of the spools, said her lessons about mandalas, geometric patterns that feature circles, inspired her designs.

Her experience designing sets at community theaters prepared her for painting the spools, which were large and unevenly shaped, she said.

Tomkins said she also painted jersey barriers for last year’s project. This year, she said, it was nice to interact with community members while painting on site instead of at home.


“It was a little bit more community involved,” Tomkins said. “I had such a positive experience with everyone coming up to you and asking me questions, and people really being excited about seeing art.”

Chloe Liu and Allison Pirog can be reached at