MARBLEHEAD — Match an artist with strong town ties with Marblehead Little Theatre (MLT) and the Fourth of July and you get outdoor inspiration everyone can enjoy beginning this weekend.
Although there are no current live performances in the theater’s 12 School St. home due to coronavirus restrictions, MLT is celebrating the arts and Independence Day by installing five of Jeremy Barnett’s works on its historical firehouse facade.
Marblehead native Barnett proposed the project after learning the Marblehead Festival of Arts had been canceled due to the pandemic, like so many other community events across the country.
“Marblehead Little Theatre is important to me, my family, and to the quality of life in Marblehead, which I still consider to be my home despite having lived elsewhere for many years. I wanted to pay homage to MLT in a way that would keep MLT visually alive during this unusual period when theatres are closed,” he said in a statement provided by MLT.
A Marblehead High School graduate, Barnett’s entry into the backstage world of theater was as a member of the run crew for MLT’s 1992 production of “Oliver” when he was 14 years old.
Since then he has been an award-winning scenic designer for theaters across the country and, as an artist, has exhibited in venues on three continents.
Two of Barnett’s creations will be arranged on the lower left and right of the firehouse facade — measuring 10 feet high by 30 inches wide — featuring large organic shapes serving as abstract supports for a frieze made of two canvases across the top of the wooden doors.
Another canvas — seven feet high and 20 feet wide — will be displayed on the firehouse’s second story in a series of vibrant shapes suggesting the energy of summer, fireworks, ice cream sprinkles and bursting bottles of champagne.
“If people cannot gather inside MLT’s Firehouse Theatre, then let its exterior offer the inspiration and joy that its performances have provided for so long,” Barnett said. “History tells us that when the unexpected occurs, that is when the arts become fuel for the creative spirit.”
Barnett’s installation artwork uses simple shapes and bold colors to create strong, joyful feelings. His goal is to make his art accessible and relatable to all audiences. The canvases for MLT are inspired by the joy of summer, dedicated to the ideas of hope and community within the context of current events.
“They are an aggressively non-cynical response to these challenging times,” he said.
Based in Detroit as a scenic and event designer, Barnett is a co-founding member of Amarant Design Collective, a Detroit-based installation art organization. He earned a master’s of fine arts in scenic design from Boston University and a bachelor’s of fine arts in drama from Carnegie Mellon University. He studied photography at Pittsburgh Filmmakers Institute and at Studio Art Centers International in Florence, Italy.
Barnett is planning a follow-up project that will invite Marblehead children to create their own smaller canvases that will be sewn together to replace his original work.