The euphoria of completing a new mural always happens the first moments after you finish the last brush stroke, but as a professional I am always looking forward to the next project.
Jon Allen tried his hand at the traditional art game. The Massachusetts native moved to Brooklyn in 1999 and “did the gallery grind” for 10 years. He was disillusioned by the politics of the art world at that time, and dissatisfied by the “soul-crushing” experience of being an art handler and museum installer.
“I moved back to Massachusetts with nothing,” Allen recalled.
Looking to find his path, he took a course in Fitchburg State’s graduate program in applied communications. “I saw the program as an opportunity to grow,” he said. Through the program he hoped he would find ways to develop intellectually creative concepts without being tied to a specific discipline.
And he did, with public art among those creative concepts. His master’s thesis focused on using public art as a means of economic development in gateway cities such as Fitchburg.
Since graduating in 2012, he has pursued that philosophy in earnest. Allen’s work is quite literally all over downtown Fitchburg, with large-scale murals adorning buildings and bridges that are passed daily by thousands of people.
One of his first works downtown was a mural of Marion Stoddart adorning the rear of a building on Laurel Street, facing the city’s Riverfront Park. Stoddart was a major force in the cleanup of the Nashua River which passes through the city. Allen was inspired to memorialize the environmentalist, and the massive work still stands.
More large-scale works followed, including a mural of the firearms and bicycle manufacturer Iver Johnson (on Main Street) and, this summer, a sprawling work along Boulder Drive from which he drew inspiration from students in the local YMCA’s “Spartacus” afterschool program. The mural itself was part of a major city initiative promoting public art, and Allen was the lead artist on the work, which features bright, smiling faces and aspirational text.
“Seeing my work embedded in the community feels good, and I am proud of each piece that I have done,” said Allen, who just finished his 10th year teaching at Littleton High School. “The euphoria of completing a new mural always happens the first moments after you finish the last brush stroke, but as a professional I am always looking forward to the next project. Overall I hope that my work can serve as a basis to facilitate more arts in the area.”
This article first appeared in the Winter 2022 edition of Contact magazine.