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The Heart of Olean

Philanthropy brings culturally enriching public arts project to Olean

Tue, May 2nd 2023 10:00 am

In many ways, a matter of the heart served as the spark for the Heart of Olean Mural Project, a 10,000 square foot, four-sided mural in the heart of downtown Olean.

Likewise, it was the impact that a public arts project of such scale can have on the heart of an entire community that inspired the CRCF board of directors to provide two grants totaling $20,000 as lead contributions to the project.

For the project’s leading artist, Meg Saligman, a world-renowned mural artist and OleanMeg.Saligman native, the Heart of Olean is the fulfillment of a promise she made to her father, attorney Don Fish – a promise to create a painting that would hang above the mantle of his home.

When Fish passed away in 2021, before that painting could be produced, that mantle painting took on a whole new life and now covers four sides of the Jamestown Community College’s Library and Liberal Arts Center. The mural is an ode to Olean, featuring past, present and imagined future scenes of the Olean area, but it also features elements of surrealism, inspired by Robert Lax’s poem “The Circus in the Sun.”

Saligman partnered with the Tri-County Arts Council and a number of other community volunteers (and friends) like Paula Fox Derwick of Fox Financial to begin fundraising and planning efforts. From the beginning, the project has lived up to its name and has been squarely, both physically and figuratively, at the heart of the Olean community.

Listening and planning sessions at the early phase of the project brought members of the community together to share stories and Olean history – and many of those stories now color the mural wall.

The project brought together the arts community, area businesses and nonprofits to not just fund, but collaborate in a way that made the project all the more meaningful and connecting.

Over 1,300 community volunteer painters (equaling 10% of the Olean population) touched the wall with their own brush strokes. Businesses across the Olean community hosted paint days where their employees and community members worked together to paint mural paper that was later transferred onto the mural wall.

In so many ways, the project embodied the most essential thing about the arts – the thing that goes deeper than general appreciation of a work of art – it fostered true connectivity between people from all different walks of life. That connectivity is the healing aspect of art that encouraged the CRCF board of directors to make two grants of $10,000, two of the year’s largest grants, from the Olean Beautification Fund and Visual Arts Alliance Fund.

“To support a project of this scale was an incredible opportunity for our board of directors,” said Lucy Benson, board president. “We believe that the arts celebrate history and heritage in a way that can be transformational, and we believe that the Heart of Olean Mural project has done just that.”

This feature story is from the 2022 CRCF Annual Report "Heart of Philanthropy."

CLICK HERE to see the full 2022 Annual Report