Public art is a rare thing on the Vineyard. There is the iconic swordfisherman sculpture at Menemsha, and, though not public art (but giving us the same pleasure), there are the irresistibly cheerful Tom Maley figures that tease us from the ground of Field Gallery and from thoughtfully placed perches on some private properties. There are war memorials, the Civil War soldier that surveys the Oak Bluffs ferry wharf, the cannons that lie silent in Edgartown’s Memorial Park. But the community-produced mural now brightening the Tisbury Stop & Shop parking lot makes a welcome addition to a fairly empty field.
Vineyarders are fortunate to be spared many of the depredations of commercial nihilism. Sure, we have thing-shops flogging forgettable things, and we have precious shops offering temptations we may find hard to forget. But for the most part, what Islanders treasure about the Vineyard is the community of other people — the unpretentious, overqualified, extraordinarily generous people around us, each aware of the others and of our common good fortune to share these natural surroundings. So it is fitting that on a long, formerly-dour stretch of rather necessary shopfront, a signature work of public art came about not by hiring a splashy name; no, here, it came from the quiet goodwill of business people, town officials, professional artists, students and volunteers, all working together.
The mural is called the Gateway to the Island, and it tells the story of Vineyard history in pictures. It is not overpriced or overwrought. In an era of celebrity-caulked conceptual babble, a group of folks got together to make something more than decoration; it is good, earthy art which the artists achieved without try-hard attempts to redefine truth or beauty, but simply to tip their palettes to those lofty notions as they make something that serves as a welcome.
Perhaps this successful project could inspire other simple public projects. Not necessarily more public art projects, but small public space enhancements that would bring us together in our common properties — some public barbecues at Owen Park, a few nice park benches or picnic tables at the Tisbury Waterworks, some places to experience what the Tisbury mural really celebrates, and that is, the coming together — the Island community spirit that transcends our time.