TORRINGTON — A mural representing and created by students from around Litchfield County was removed from the old Libby building on Main Street Monday, in spite of efforts to save it.
The student-created mural was taken down to make way for new windows being installed by the property’s owner, Vinny Cappelletti.
Since last fall, a group of residents and students had tried to keep the mural on the building. The city’s public school administration said it could possibly be placed on Torrington High School’s facade facing the athletic fields, and the Cultural Affairs Commission was trying to work out a plan to find funding for that project. But so far, no plan to give the mural a new home is in place.
“We’re putting (the windows) in now,” Cappelletti said Monday. “I’m just piling up the (mural) panels and we’re just waiting for someone to come and pick them up. It’s not a big deal to come and take them — they’re all right here.”
Cappelletti said he first reached out to ASAP!, the Washington-based non-profit arts organization, in June 2019 to see if it was interested in the mural. ASAP! oversaw the project and its installation in 2013, drawing participation from students around Litchfield County, including Torrington. ASAP said the mural belonged to the city.
“This mural has never been an issue for me — I never said ‘Get rid of it,’” Cappelletti said. “But I’m the one who reached out and asked if anyone wanted the panels, because I was starting to renovate the building.”
Cappelletti is renovating the upper floors of the property for more than a dozen apartments, and plans to lease the bottom floor facing the street and run it as a diner and an emporium. He has been renovating the building for more than a year.
More than 100 plywood panels are included in the mural. “It’s just plywood. The mural is seven or eight years old, and a lot of it is in need of repair,” he said. “The wood is dilapidated. But we’ve taken (the panels) down, and we’ve saved everything, even the screws. So it’s just a matter of someone coming to get them.”
The City Council briefly discussed the mural at its May 4 meeting. Mayor Elinor Carbone said she was working on it with the Cultural Affairs Commission.
“I am now working with the ... committee to find appropriate storage for the mural and how to fund that,” she said.
John Noelke, owner of the Noelke Gallery on Water Street and the Howard building on Main Street, was among those who objected to having the mural removed. They wanted Cappilletti to use an overlay material to protect and keep it on the side of the building. The overlay would have allowed the new windows to be installed behind the mural, with a special material over the windows so that they wouldn’t be visible from the outside.
Noelke, a supporter of public art, said the student-created mural didn’t belong anywhere else but on Main Street.
“I’m a public artist,” Noelke said. “That mural was designed for that particular spot, and wasn’t intended to go anywhere else. I haven’t been involved in any plans to move it.”
Resident Lisa Vels, who also wanted the mural to be left on the building, sees its loss at that site as a “huge aggression and a despicable, racist act.” She holds the city responsible for not taking charge of the public art and finding a home for it.
“This is a message (from the city) to the black and brown people of Torrington — it’s just despicable,” she said. “To deny it, and to say it’s just a mural, that’s just wrong. I was trying to fight to keep it up. I feel bad, and I feel guilty, because I didn’t try harder, and I feel disappointed in a lot of people.”
Now that the mural is off the building, she said, it belongs to Cappelletti. “He took ownership of it, by taking it down,” she said. “But now, it’s nobody’s. Nobody wants it.”
Parent Laysa Rodriguez, whose now-grown children worked on the mural, also wanted to keep the mural on the building, and said her children were upset when they heard it was coming down. Both painted themselves into the wall of panels —her daughter Yazmin is there, holding her dog, Coquito; her son, Stalin, stands on a corner panel.
“(The city is) telling them they don’t matter, that their work is just trash,” Rodriguez said, during an interview in December. “The mural was a gift to the city. ... It made them feel like they belong here, too. It’s about diversity. I don’t give Torrington permission to move it. It belongs to everybody.”