(May 24, 2019) It’s been a long journey for those involved with the community mural project in Berlin, as it was just a little more than two weeks ago when artist John Donato put the finishing touches on the piece’s fourth and final segment.
Toni Keiser, vice president of Public Relations for Atlantic General Hospital, expressed her appreciation to artist John Donato and the Berlin Arts and Entertainment District for the hospital’s inclusion in the community health section of the mural.
“Our employees, medical staff, board members and volunteers, patients, and visitors truly enjoyed the opportunity to participate in the Berlin mural project,” Keiser said in a statement. “It was a fun and creative way for all to express their connection with the hospital and the community.”
Donato said people kept coming to leave their mark on the mural during the time he spent painting from May 7-9 at the hospital and John H. “Jack” Burbage Regional Cancer Center in Berlin.
“Over 48 hours, it really builds,” he said. “I had six people show up, and then I had eight people show up, and then I had 12 people show up, and then I had people that didn’t want to leave. It was great.”
When Donato approaches a project, he only knows about 35 to 40 percent of what will be featured in it, he said.
He added a big part of his process is creating an investigative dialogue with the other involved parties, in this case Atlantic General Hospital.
He emphasized the need to really get to know the hospital’s medical staff to get a better understanding of what community health really means to them. This allows him to help tell a more intricate and visual story.
“And so it’s just very interesting that 60 percent that I don’t know that goes in a mural, they fill in all those blanks, but it has to happen in a conversation, so I have to become part of the family while I’m there,” he said.
For Donato, he said logistics and timing were some of the obstacles he faced for this particular segment of the mural.
“Yeah, this one was definitely an accelerated timetable,” he said.
Donato had about a week to complete the project.
“The challenge is the part that I like,” Donato said. “ Every step of this presents challenges that pop up for me that I might not have a solution at that moment, but I ... embrace that kind of uncertainty and then start building solutions and I will reach out to people and have conversations.”
Donato said he uses synthetic panels and acrylic paint when working on murals. He stressed the importance of properly preparing the materials to ensure durability.
“Because I’m there to protect the investment of the folks that are raising the money to put these up, ”Donato said. “I want this mural to last as long as it can.”
Robin Tomaselli, vice president of the Berlin Arts and Entertainment District, agreed. She said she hopes visitors will see the mural stand the test of time.
“It tells a story of Berlin. It tells the history of Berlin, but it really does depict like what makes it such a great community, which happens to be every single member that lives and works here,” Tomaselli said. “So people I think are super excited when they find out ... that it’s going to be on the side of the visitor center for decades.”
The journey of the mural outside the Berlin Maryland Welcome Center on South Main Street started about four years ago. The first section brought in Buckingham Elementary School students and staff, the second featured Worcester Youth and Family Counseling Services and the third was a partnership between the Calvin B. Taylor House and Germantown School Community Heritage Center.
“It is super cool, and it’s been over the process of four years, and you’re talking about hundreds and hundreds of hours of effort,” Tomaselli said.
Donato said the fourth mural representing Atlantic General Hospital allowed the artwork to come full circle. He added the mural’s first segment showcased the cows roaming on the Esham dairy farm, where the medical facility now stands.
“We weren’t thinking that when we started the project,” Donato said. That’s part of the adaptive process when … you start to get the feel of the project, and you start to see how the community responds to the project and as you start to build partnerships and relationships during the project.”
While it was unplanned, he said it actually turned out for the best.
“You will get things that you weren’t planning on having that we can work into the project that absolutely make it better,” he said. “That absolutely can make it more unique.”
A photo of the mural’s most recent segment was presented last week to guests of the Atlantic General Hospital Foundation’s 26th Anniversary Celebration.
It’s unclear when the artwork will be officially installed.
However, now that the mural is finished, Tomaselli couldn’t be happier.
“It took a village to complete that project so we’re super proud of it,” Tomaselli said.