School of Music, Theatre and Dance

OU professor creates outdoor art installation for hometown theatre

Jeremy Barnett’s seven custom-painted canvases were unveiled July 4 at Marblehead Little Theatre

icon of a calendarJuly 10, 2020

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Oakland University professor creates outdoor art installation for hometown theatre
Jeremy Barnett - Marblehead Little Theatre mural project
Oakland University Theatre Professor Jeremy Barnett created seven custom-painted canvases, which were installed on the façade of the Marblehead Little Theatre in Marblehead, Mass. (Photos courtesy Jeremy Barnett)

When the Marblehead Festival of Arts was canceled this year due to COVID-19, Marblehead native and Oakland University Theatre Professor Jeremy Barnett proposed and executed a project for seven custom-painted canvases to be installed on the façade of the Marblehead Little Theatre in Marblehead, Mass.

“Marblehead is home for both my wife and me; and it’s the town that our parents still call home,” Barnett said.

Barnett’s father is the facility manager and technical director at the Marblehead Little Theatre, his mother designed their logo, and his wife sewed costumes for their shows with three generations of her family.

“It’s sort of a family business,” said Barnett, who had his first backstage experience working on an MLT production of Oliver in 1992 when he was 14 years old. Since then, he has been an award-winning scenic designer for theatres across the country and, as an artist, has exhibited in venues on three continents.

It was while speaking with his father about the cancellation of the Marblehead Festival of Arts and other events in his hometown that Barnett became inspired to create the canvases, which were unveiled on July 4.

Jeremy Barnett - Marblehead Little Theatre mural project

“There was a lot of Marblehead community life being cancelled all at once and, perhaps because my family was seeking shelter from the uncertainty of the world in my childhood home, those cancellations of favorite childhood memories shook me hard,” he said.

The next day, Barnett reached out to the Marblehead Little Theatre’s Board of Directors and offered to paint five canvases that would be “aggressively non-cynical in these cynical times.”

“The point of the project is to share something with the community and to symbolically and creatively bring the community together at a time when we need to be a little bit apart from one another,” Barnett said.

Jeremy Barnett - Marblehead Little Theatre mural project

Four vertical canvases featuring organic shapes were arranged to the left and right of the theatre’s wooden doors.  Two more canvases across the tops of the doors create a frieze depicting summer scenes.  The final painting — a 7-foot-high and 20-foot-wide canvas — is located on the building’s second story. It features a series of vibrant shapes suggesting the energy of summer, fireworks, ice cream sprinkles and bursting bottles of champagne.

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Barnett is planning a second phase of the project that will invite Marblehead children to create their own smaller canvases that will be sewn together to replace his original work.

“We will distribute smaller canvases and paints — the same kind that I used — the families connected to Marblehead youth arts programs,” he said. “We will invite them to paint the canvases and return them to MLT. We’ll then stitch them together into the size and shape of the paintings I made, so that my paintings can be replaced by paintings that are truly an expression of the community.”

To learn more about the Marblehead Little Theatre — one of the oldest continuously operating community theatre’s in the United States — visit www.mltlive.com.

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