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New Haven Notables: commemoration through mural art In 31 art banners strung around the city, notable New Haveners and their legacies are being celebrated. Ariel Kim and Elizabeth Dejanikus report. Photos by Lily Dorstewitz.

While strolling down Chapel Street, passersby will find themselves greeted with Meryl Streep’s smiling lips and Adam Clayton’s steady eyes as part of the “New Haven Notables” mural display — a collection of banners celebrating 31 renowned New Haveners.

Installed in 2016 by commissioned mural artists, each banner showcases one of the individuals and includes a brief blurb fanfaring their legacy to the public. The project was established by the Chapel West Special Services District, which, according to Operations Manager Anthony Giano, handles the district’s day-to-day operations such as street cleaning, general surveillance and economic development projects.

“These [murals] don't just make the city a brighter and more welcoming place to live … they also remind us of our history and our humanity in the most vibrant way possible,” Lucy Gellmen, editor of the Arts Paper of the New Haven Arts Council, wrote in an email to the News.

Current district President Tom Strong ART ’67 and former President Vincent Romei were seeking an opportunity to both adorn the streets of New Haven and educate the community. Their solution was a collection of 31 murals celebrating famous figures who have passed through the city.

According to Strong, the murals, which vary in size, typically last around three to four years before requiring replacement. Each banner includes both a black and white high-resolution sketch of the individual and a short description of their story. Many of them hang on the sides of apartment buildings and other local establishments. According to Strong, the University will not allow banners on its buildings.

“I love that, through muralism, I can run into Dr. Edward Bouchet, the first Black man to get a Ph.D. in the country, while I'm waiting for the bus by Henry Street,” Gellmen said.

Edward Bouchet — one of the 31 notables who was valedictorian of the Hopkins school in 1860 and the first Black man to be named Phi Beta Kappa at Yale — was also recently featured in a mural by New Haven artist Kwado Adae that’s located on Dixwell Avenue.

“He was the first Black Ph.D. recipient in the country,” Adae noted enthusiastically. Indeed, Edward Bouchet was not only the first African American to be awarded a Ph.D., but he was the sixth American to earn such a distinction in Physics. Later in life, as a teacher, he inspired several Black students to pursue STEM.

“I wanted to memorialize him to the public — he deserves more than a painting within the confined walls of Yale,” Adae said.

Other important New Haven figures featured in the collection include Robert Moses, who played a critical role in transforming the landscape of 19th century New York through infrastructure — bridging, housing, highways and tunnels. His portrait is immortalized in a monochrome portrait in which his steely-eyed gaze pierces through the left of the banner as if he can see beyond the brick walls of Chapel Street.

Giano, a long-time New Haven resident, hopes to see a second round of murals go up.

“People come in just to ask about the murals,” he said, noting that they were a “focal point” of the city. Giano has set up a display in his office on Chapel Street that features copies of many of the murals.

Passersby pause as they make their way down Chapel Street, spending a moment with Paul Giamatti and then sharing a quick exchange with Karen Carpenter before continuing on their way.

“If you have a beautiful space,” Adae added, “then you have a happy community.”

The Chapel West Special Services District was founded in 1986.