MANCHESTER, NH – Keith Trahan is an open-air artist. He does his best work on large canvases in the post-sundown solitude of the cityscape. Currently, he’s up to his elbows in a project that heralds the beginning of a new era for city dwellers.
Trahan’s been invited to mastermind a mural heralding The Loop, an Oct. 14 event that doubles as a sneak preview of what the civic group Manchester Connects is aiming for: Breaking down the invisible barrier between Commercial Street and Elm Street, and creating a sense of place around the Merrimack River [click here for a slideshow presentation of the vision.]
This Saturday, from 10 a.m. to 12 p.m., The Loop – an actual premeditated walking route – will lead revelers around a marked trail that loops around Commercial Street, Stark Street, Elm Street and Granite Street (hence, the name).
Then, everyone is invited to gather back at City Hall for live music, outdoor games, bubbles and art.
As chairman of Manchester Arts Commission, Daniel Bérubé says getting Trahan on board for the mural was a matter of happenstance.
“I had one more window at 922 Elm Street to fill with one last mural, and I wanted that mural’s theme to be about the future of Manchester. With great serendipity I met Keith at his booth at Art Jam Bridge Fest – we immediately hit it off and became fast friends. Keith’s art is amazing and struck me visually. And when Keith showed me his one ‘pièce de résistance’ of abstract art and told me of his story, well, it was a “That’s It!” moment between the two of us. And now I have my eyes on Keith to become an Arts Commissioner,” says Bérubé, who is also proprietor of the newly opened Jupiter Hall event space and gallery.
Slideshow: Keith Trahan at work on The Loop mural
Trahan’s mural is all part of the hoopla (or Loopla, if you will) a colorful respite from the vanilla cinderblocks along Stark Street – it will be in progress right up until the big day, and he will be putting finishing touches on it as people make their way around “The Loop.”
A West High graduate and lifelong Manchester resident, Trahan says participating in the project means a lot to him because it allows him to be part of the city’s vision for the future.
He explains his concept for the mural in the context of the grand scheme that is Manchester Connects, a movement that is melding the proud history of the city with momentum for a limitless future that sees the Merrimack River as the heartbeat, with all kinds of possibilities in sight – multimodal transportation, a pedestrian bridge connected the east and west sides of the city, waterfront recreation, and more.
“It’s a little bit of the past, present and future of Manchester,” says Trahan surveying his work, brush in hand. He motions toward the far right side of the mural, where the Notre Dame Bridge is beginning to take shape.
“I’ve got some landscape, some silhouettes, we’ve got our event here,” he says, referencing the blue stylized “M” for Manchester with “The Loop” written underneath.
This night, he’s outlining a big eye, placed prominently near midpoint of the mural.
“This eye in particular, symbolizes opening up peoples’ eyes, and raising awareness of a lot of the problems we have here around Manchester. It’s a beautiful eye, and the message is for people to just open up their eyes and see there are beautiful things out there, and we need to be aware there are other ways of being happy and other ways to find your release,” Trahan says.
Problems including the opioid epidemic, he says, which continues to take a human toll on his city. Trahan has battled more than a few of his own demons, including drug addiction. But six years clean, and he’s finally living the life he feels he was meant to live, through art. Marriage and parenthood help to keep him grounded. But it is the fine art of self-expression that keeps Trahan pumped and positive – not overlooking the importance also of the Red Bull nestled among his paint brushes and spray cans.
The concept for The Loop came after months of meetings under the Manchester Connects umbrella, which is focusing on “placemaking” as a way to get people to extend their idea of downtown Manchester, beyond Elm Street. Liz Hitchcock, Sarah Jacobs, Daniel Bérubé, and Marlana Trombley led the way on this particular effort, with more to come as momentum continues, says Hitchcock. Anyone interested in joining forces with Manchester Connects can begin by following the public group on Facebook and coming out Oct. 14 for The Loop.
What to expect for “The Loop”
Short but sweet, for two hours – 10 a.m. to noon – everyone in the city is invited to come down to City Hall, grab a map and get moving around The Loop, a circuitous path marked with dots. The event is free.
The NH Ukeladies will be performing at 11 a.m. on the south side of City Hall by the ramp, and other games and activities will be interspersed along The Loop. Look for special day-of discounts at participating eateries, including Cafe La Reine, Dancing Lion, Ben & Jerry’s and more TBA. The event was planned by a sub-committee of Manchester Connects.
Below is a map of The Loop, illustrated by Alexandra Bye.