David Lago carefully ascended the ladder with a long strip of canvas in one hand and a glue gun in the other. With his high-top Chuck Taylors securely balanced on the top rung, he placed a few drops of glue to the corners and pressed the canvas into place.
The New Brunswick High School art teacher on Friday afternoon delicately then placed five more pieces into place on the interior windows of Barca City Café & Bar, facing out toward the passing pedestrians on Easton Avenue.
The six-paneled “Bridging the Gap” art piece was created by Lago and 20 students from the New Brunswick High School Chapter of the National Art Honor Society who volunteered their time after school to conjure the concept, coat the strips with dark blue paint and help create the words and figures on them. They even created the interlocking puzzle-piece effect that runs through the six panels.
“Bridging the Gap” not only demonstrates the students’ considerable artistic talents but also represents a thoughtful meditation on the relationship between today’s youth and law enforcement.
As part of the citywide Windows of Understanding public art project, creating “Bridging the Gap” challenged the students to think of positive ways members of law enforcement affect their lives – and what that means in a country still healing from the murder of George Floyd and the ensuing Black Lives Matter movement.
Many of them recalled their positive interactions with Capt. Michael Bobadilla, a member of the New Brunswick Police Department. Some attended his summer soccer camp, others received backpacks that he distributed and still others received Christmas gifts from Bobadilla and his fellow officers.
The idea of using a generic police officer soon morphed into depicting Bobadilla, posed as if he is standing sentinel over the city.
And instead of using a generic student, the idea was hatched to depict Briana, the president of the art club.
“So, you have Capt. Bobadilla on the left panel and Brianna on the right, and they’re facing each other,” Lago said. “They’re basically looking at each other, trying to find a connection, trying to find an agreement. There’s a blue line that runs across the panels and connects them.”
In the middle are illustrations of the many ways New Brunswick police officers serve the community, including providing first aid to injured residents, directing traffic, and engaging youth. They are depicted inside puzzle pieces, suggesting that this is a process that is still being fitted together.
Challenging today’s students to use artwork to humanize the badge and bridge the gap is the type of conversation at the heart of Windows of Understanding.
The Windows of Understanding public art project unites local artists, organizations, and businesses to promote compassion and awareness around social justice issues.
In its sixth year, this year’s project will launch on Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day, Jan. 16, and will run through April 1.
The original works of art will focus on mental health, food equality, violence prevention, and women’s health. The works will be on display throughout New Brunswick, Highland Park, Metuchen, and South Plainfield.
In New Brunswick, the artwork will be on display at Barca City Cafe & Bar, 47 Easton Ave.; Harvest Moon Brewery & Cafe, 392 George St., Kilmer Square, 73 Albany St.; New Brunswick City Center, 109 Church St.; New Brunswick Performing Arts Center, 11 Livingston Ave.; Morris Parking Deck, 70 New St; Heldrich Hotel, 310-312 George St.; and the American Hungarian Foundation, 300 Somerset St.
You can learn more about the featured artists and artwork here.
Story by: Chuck O'Donnell
Photo by: David Lago