SOMERVILLE, NJ - The Borough Council Monday night approved an ordinance that will permit qualified artists to paint murals on the brick facades of buildings in the downtown retail district along Main Street.
There are two mural projects already awaiting the approval process. Each is intended to memorialize one of two artists with ties to Somerville. Both died tragically pursuing their passion within the past few years.
The ordinance spells out the application and review process, and designates Arts on Division, a non-profit organization that oversees art and cultural events in the downtown district, as the agency that will oversee the review and approval process.
Raymond W. Brown was working on a giant mural project in October, 2016 on the side of a high-rise building in Hollywood, Fla. when the scaffolding collapsed, with Brown and two others falling 40 feet. Brown perished; the other two survived, including Douglas Hoekzema, his good friend and a prolific artist whose murals have been created on the sides of buildings throughout the world.
Hoekzema plans to come to Somerville with other artists to paint a mural on the three-story brick facade of the Redelico's Paint and Decorating Center building alongside the Reformed Church at 118 West Main St..
Brown, 32 when he died, was well-known in the Miami-area arts community and in addition to his art, was a gifted guitarist who performed in the area.
Brown was born in Somerville and was a graduate of Bridgewater-Raritan High School. He was honored by the Somerset Patriots during the 2017 season; players wore a patch on their sleeves in memory of Brown, who had been a batboy for the team.
His parents are retired Somerset County Parks Director Raymond A. Brown and Roseann Woods Brown, chief of staff for Sen. Christopher "Kip" Bateman and former Somerset County Deputy Clerk.
The second mural project is in memory of Jerome Gonzalez, a prolific artist and author who played a major role in the establishment of the thriving arts community in Somerville. He died at the age of 44 in February, 2018 competing in an endurance race in North Carolina.
Gonzalez, a talented graffiti artist who was equally adept working on canvas or paper, graduated Somerville High School in 1992.
His good friend, Shaun Daley, co-owner of the Gallery on Main at 30 West Main St., is coordinating the project with partner Michelle Kassick, with a GoFundMe page established to raise funds. The mural will be painted on the brick facade of a building near Daley's gallery, alongside a walkway that leads to a municipal parking lot behind the Main Street buildings. One of the artists working on the project, Alejandro Medina, created a poster of Gonzalez which is being sold at the gallery, with all proceeds donated to the project.
The vote to approve the ordinance was 4-1, with Councilman RanD Pitts absent; Council President Granvile Brady cast the lone "no" vote.
"I prefer sculpture," he said.