Arlington Artists Let Their Creativity Bloom
Updated: Jun 2
On May 7 a group of Arlington artists flocked to the Heights for a "Think Spring" window-painting event, continuing a recent tradition that beautifies the neighborhood and supports local businesses. This flowering of visual art became the setting for a street festival focused on nurturing the environment that took place on May 21.
The idea for the window paintings grew out of the haiku festival held in July 2021, when poetry was painted on the windows of Heights businesses. “It was such a success, we wanted to capitalize on that," said Janet O’Riordan, volunteer for the Arlington Heights Community Association, which organizes these events, along with the Arlington Chamber of Commerce and Arlington Commission for Arts and Culture.
The Heights Community Association holds monthly meetings, chaired by Ali Carter, town economic development director, and in August 2021, Jim O’Rourke, co-owner of the Heights Pub (located where Balich 5 & 10 used to be) and First House Pub in Winchester, mentioned that there is a Halloween window-painting event in Winchester Center every year. "I did some research," said O’Riordan, "and found out that the Winchester event is huge, with several hundred windows involved.”
She also learned that in Winchester they use tempera paint, which washes off in the rain. “We don’t have as many windows as Winchester does,” said O’Riordan (about 50 of them have been painted), “so we want ours to stay up longer." Cecily Miller, curator of public art and community engagement for the Arlington Commission for Arts and Culture, had decided that long-lasting acrylic paints would be used for the haiku festival, and she and O'Riordan agreed to continue that policy so the Arlington window paintings could be enjoyed by the community for a month or more.
These events are open to all Arlington residents as well as students of Arlington schools, so they attract a wide variety of artists, ranging from elementary-school students to seasoned professionals. Meet a few who are returning for a second or third time.
Ellie Mackensie, Bishop School, first grader
One of the youngest artists is Ellie Mackensie, who described her painting at Orek Vacuum Center as "a blossoming tree blowing in the wind." "For years we’ve admired the Belmont Center Halloween window paintings," said her mother, Kristen, "and Ellie would always ask if she could paint one. We were thrilled to see this type of event come to Arlington!” "I like to draw, paint, and do art projects at home," said Ellie, adding that she goes to Arlington Center for the Arts camp in the summer.
For the winter event, Ellie coordinated with one of her friends, and they enjoyed creating adjacent windows. “It’s fun to paint, to see everyone else’s paintings, and to see your painting for many weeks after," said Ellie. Her mother noted that whenever the family walks or drives through the Heights after the windows have been decorated, Ellie and her younger sister, Molly, will shout, "'The painting is still there!’ as Ellie beams with pride."
Tonya Grifkin, art teacher
Grifkin, a teacher at Saint Peter School in Cambridge, lives in the Heights, and painted windows in October, December, and May. "These events are wonderfully organized," she noted, "I'm so grateful to the folks that create arts opportunities in my neighborhood!" Grifkin said she especially enjoys "the feeling of community on painting day when people come by and ask about what you're doing. It creates such a fun atmosphere!"
"Besides teaching art," said Grifkin, "it's crucial for me to be creating my own art too." Having recently painted a utility box in Lexington at Worthen and Waltham Street, she noted, "This spring I'll be working on a bird-themed utility box in Arlington." She is also excited about illustrating a book about Errol the Cat, due to be published this year, written by her husband, Ross Grifkin.
For her spring and Halloween windows she collaborated with fellow artist Renée Majkut, who is also an Arlington resident and has painted a utility box in town. Their current windows, located on the Park Avenue side of MyEyeDr., feature dragons of the air and water surrounded by a variety of flora and fauna. When viewers look a her designs, Grifkin said, "I want them to feel a sense of fun, excitement, and wonder. Arlington is my community, and I can't think of a better way to be a part of it!"
Genevieve Oba, yoga teacher and artist
"I've lived in Arlington for nearly 20 years," said Oba, "and I've always wanted to see more art in our community." Since participating in the haiku event, she has become one of the organizers of the window-painting events, helping to choose the color palette and brushes for the artists, who pay a $25 registration fee that covers their supplies. "I choose colors that reflect the season but also work well together," said Oba.
"In college, I spent six months living and studying in Japan," said Oba, "where I learned woodblock printmaking and calligraphy. I still find a great deal of inspiration in Japanese art and continue to be interested in printmaking, but I also do acrylic painting and have recently been making multimedia collage pieces."
At the Kumon Math and Reading Center, Oba created a plant with flowers and leaves shooting out in all directions. Reflecting on the season, Oba noted, "It's always such an extraordinary transformation each spring, the flowering trees, busy insects, and singing birds -- it's all hopeful and a reminder to find that same wildness and freedom in your own life. Art can be perceived differently by everybody, so it's important to make it accessible to all!"
"These events are very popular," noted O'Riordan; "the artists and businesses love them, and they help build a sense of community, so I'm sure this one won't be our last."