By KAYLA PONGRAC
Our Town Correspondent
Former Westmont Middle School students might recall participating in an art project that involved painting on wooden panels.
This particular painting project began in the 1980s. By 2016, an impressive panel/mural collection had decorated the halls inside Westmont Middle School.
Unfortunately, all the murals were at risk of being destroyed as part of the demolition of the school this summer.
Karen Azer, former Westmont Middle Hilltop School Board president and current vice president of operations and secretary of the Community Arts Center of Cambria County, called Angela Godin, arts center executive director, to inform her that the nonprofit had an opportunity to “save the art.”
Otherwise, Godin said, the murals were “going down with the building.”
So, Godin, Azer and arts center Education Coordinator Lida Hood made a trip to the school, which is now in the process of being leveled.
“When I walked through the middle school and saw the magnitude of these massive pieces, it was right then and there that I had to make a phone call to see what we could do,” Godin said.
The murals depict a variety of scenes inspired by everything from classic works of art to the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.
“Each one is incredibly unique and extremely expressive,” Azer said of the murals. “We have featured some of these talented young artists in the annual Greater Johnstown Young Artist Exhibitions over the years.”
Over time, some of the murals sustained damages, but many are still intact.
Azer described the murals as being part of the school’s history, not to mention a source of memories for former students, faculty, parents and staff.
“I remember when my kids were working on ‘their’ murals,” Azer said. “It is such an integral part of the history of the Westmont Middle Hilltop School. I knew there had to be something we could do.”
Now that the murals have been “saved,” the community can look forward to the murals being part of a future exhibit to be held inside the Goldhaber-Fend Fine Arts Center.
Godin and her staff plan to feature the exhibit during the 2017 gallery season. They are hoping to partner, at least in some capacity, with the Westmont Alumni Association so that former students who had a hand in painting the murals can see them on display.
“It would be really nice to work with the Westmont Alumni Association so that people who come into town for their alumni events can get to see something from their past,” Godin said.
She also mentioned that, once the exhibit concludes, some of the murals will be available for sale.
“Since we don’t have room to house all of them, we’re going to accept donations if anyone would like them,” Godin said. “And some individuals, nonprofits and businesses in the area will each get one. For example, Johnstown Area Heritage Association (JAHA) will have one.”
“If someone makes a donation in exchange for the mural, that money will go directly into our education fund so that we can continue to provide for students and artists in our community.”
Godin said that there’s a chance that some pieces may even decorate the halls of Westmont School District again in the future.
But in the meantime, there has been “a lot of buzz” surrounding the nonprofit’s call to action.
“Everyone’s really excited about this,” Godin said. “We really can’t wait to display these murals. It will be wonderful to put them under special lighting and in chronological order. Some of the art teachers have already agreed to help us out, so we are beyond excited about 2017’s entire exhibition calendar and especially this show.
“There are truly no words to express the joy we have as the community arts center plans to save something like this, especially since these students have been part of our organization over the years by taking classes and camps or attending the annual Holly Bazaar and Log House Arts Festival. This is who we are; the community arts center continues to truly embody what we strive to represent in our organization’s name and reiterate that for our community.”
Azer echoed the same sentiments.
“Our hope is to showcase these unique works of art and breathe a second life into them,” Azer said. “These pieces capture over 30 years of alumni history that is practically in the backyard of the community arts center.”