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In NHPR's series, The Show Goes On, we check in with different artists across the state to hear what inspiration they've found during the pandemic and how they're making it through.Have you been creating art during the pandemic? If you'd like to share your art or creative hobby with NHPR, send an email to voices@nhpr.org, or tell us about your latest project by leaving a voicemail at 603-513-7790.

The Show Goes On: In Nashua, Street Art Aims To Inspire

Artist Manny Ramirez
Peter Biello / NHPR
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Manny Ramirez, artist-in-resident at Positive Street Art in Nashua.

All this week, NHPR is talking with artists about their work and how the past year has changed the way they create art. For the latest installment of “The Show Goes On," All Things Considered host Peter Biello explores the colorful streetscape of Nashua.

If you’ve driven through downtown Nashua lately, you’ve likely noticed the concrete barriers blocking off seating areas for local restaurants. It’s an adaptation to COVID we’ve gotten used to. But these barriers have been painted with vivid reds, yellows, oranges, blues…

Colorful street barrier in Nashua
Credit Peter Biello / NHPR
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One of the colorful barriers for outside dining in downtown Nashua, N.H.

Manny Ramirez has had a hand in this. He’s artist-in-residence at Positive Street Art, one of two organizations turning these barriers into murals. The other organization is Beyond Walls, based in Lynn, Mass.

Ramirez points out the barriers he painted surrounding outdoor seating for a coffee shop.

“I mean, mine, the colors are very intertwined. It’s very much like the water in terms of movement of color. And on top of that, I put a portrait of a person kinda looking up, mainly focusing on the eyes of the person.”

His two barriers book-end four more painted by his wife, Cecilia Ulibarri.

“My wife is more into the nature theme with the flowers and the background colors of all the themes.”

Ulibarri and Ramirez, both co-founders of Positive Street Art, were among about a dozen artists who brought different styles to their work on the same theme: the four elements of nature, earth, fire, wind, water, plus outer space. Ramirez says inspiration came from a variety of sources, including one suggestion shouted to an artist from a passing car.

“One person said, ‘draw my dog’ and he said, ‘I don’t know what your dog looks like but that’s a really good idea.’”

Which is why, on a barrier by the corner of Main and High Streets, two Alaskan huskies lay down against a snowy background. This, Ramirez says, is an example of what Positive Street Art is all about. It’s inspired by the community, for the community.

dogstreetart.jpg
Credit Peter Biello / NHPR
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“I just think towns and cities, they need more local art that’s accessible to the public without somebody having to pay a ticket, whether it’s traditional art, whether it’s street art, whether it’s sculpture installations. It’s good to have it outdoors.”

The pandemic has been tough for Ramirez. It dried up his steady stream of clients. But with fewer commissions for murals and logos, Ramirez finally had a chance to ask himself: What did he want to paint? The answer: Outer space.

“The whole idea of it, the vastness of it. It’s so dark yet so colorful. You can never stop talking about space. There’s something new and exciting about it every single time.”

Nashuastreetart2_biello_0.jpg
Credit Peter Biello / NHPR
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When the city’s grant for the barrier project came through, he picked up the space theme outdoors. That woman’s eyes on the barrier near the coffee shop? They’re pointed toward the stars.

Ramirez says he hopes the barriers can stick around for a long time.

"The main thing with us is that we want to keep the public involved or at least keep us in the public’s eye, as far as like inspiration, we want to inspire people."

And Ramirez says, during the past year, people have needed that.

Peter Biello is the host of All Things Considered and Writers on a New England Stage at New Hampshire Public Radio. He has served as a producer/announcer/host of Weekend Edition Saturday at Vermont Public Radio and as a reporter/host of Morning Edition at WHQR in Wilmington, North Carolina.

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