Gerry Regan is some kind of a super-volunteer.
If they gave out awards for volunteering, Gerry would probably get a lot of them. But it’s doubtful that he would accept them, plus, that would kind of defeat the whole giving-without-receiving principle of volunteering.
He listed off the Susquehanna Art Museum, the Central Pennsylvania Animal Alliance, Whitaker Center, Harrisburg Symphony Orchestra, and the list goes on.
Regan likes art, a lot. This shows in the many arts-centered organizations he chooses to work with.
When he saw murals popping up around Harrisburg some years ago, he knew he wanted to get involved with whoever was behind them. Regan found Sprocket Mural Works and instantly connected with their mission of beautifying the city. He dove into their work, helping wherever he could, cleaning up sticks and overgrown brush around mural walls, setting up scaffolding and priming walls.
“It’s all about helping people and making it easier on them,” Regan said.
According to Sprocket co-founder Megan Caruso, the organization relies on volunteers like Regan. While Sprocket pays artists for their work, the organization is 100% volunteer run.
It’s the larger-than-life, brightly colored paintings that you see when driving or walking through the city. Over the years, Sprocket has created over 40 of them across Harrisburg. This summer, they will add to that number as part of their 2021 Mural Festival, which will include new paintings around the city, a pocket park in Midtown and painted planter boxes in Allison Hill.
But what you don’t see when you look at the artwork is what’s underneath, the hours that Sprocket board members and over 450 volunteers worked to prepare each artist’s canvas.
“Sprocket is more work than any small group of people can accomplish,” Caruso said. “We wouldn’t exist if we didn’t have people volunteering their time.”
Zac Monnier has volunteered with Sprocket since their first mural festival in 2017. That year, artists painted 13 murals around the city. Monnier wasn’t involved in any of the art itself, but had his hands on a lot of the behind-the-scenes projects.
He explained the process of priming a wall, which he’s done multiple times for the organization. This isn’t your typical painting experience. It involves at least a 20-foot paint roller, which gets dipped in primer and flung up to the wall. If you’re doing it right, you may wake up with a stiff neck the next morning, like Monnier has.
But that hasn’t bothered the volunteers, many of which described priming as a fun experience. Some said it’s their favorite part.
“Our volunteers aren’t afraid to get down and dirty,” said Meghan Weaver, Sprocket’s volunteer coordinator.
Regan’s known for showing up with his pickup truck to haul sticks and garbage. He’ll climb up on scaffolding, which some people are afraid to do, he said. He will even show up on days when artists are painting, to grab them a soda or watch their supplies while they take a bathroom break.
It’s not glamorous work. Volunteers don’t get their signatures on the walls they prime, but that doesn’t matter to them.
“Even though I didn’t do the artwork, I was behind the scenes,” Regan said. “I get to meet people, and I have fun doing it.”
Community organizations have stepped up, as well, Caruso said. Recycle Bicycle hosted a mural bike tour that drew 150 people. The Harrisburg Area Road Runners Club held a similar event on feet instead of wheels. Midtown Cinema set up a Q&A with Sprocket. Recently, people have donated plants for an upcoming pocket park project that is part of the 2021 Mural Festival.
“It’s so helpful to have people volunteer their skills and knowledge and time,” Caruso said.
Paint & Pride
Sprocket’s mission is to “increase community pride and civic engagement in Harrisburg through creative action.”
That’s what Caruso has hoped for since starting the arts organization in 2014. Weaver feels the same way. She’s found a community of like-minded artists who are passionate about making the community a better place.
“I get to contribute to the city that I love,” she said. “I love the idea of public art.”
Volunteer Hannah Witwer moved to Harrisburg from Philadelphia in 2016. In Philly, there was a huge arts scene—it was one of her favorite things about the city. When she moved to Harrisburg, she was excited to see murals in her new hometown, as well.
“I love art, but I never considered myself artistic,” she said. “While I couldn’t help paint a beautiful picture, I could help prime a wall.”
Witwer spent hours flinging her giant paint roller onto the wall on the side of the Capital Joe Coffee shop on Forster Street during the 2019 Mural Festival. Eventually, her work was covered with a swirling, galactic painting of a young astronaut by artist Arthur Haywood. Still, when Witwer drives by the mural, she points it out to her friends.
“I love telling people I helped prime that wall,” she said. “Being a part of that kind of helped me feel a part of the city.”
That rang true for Regan, Monnier and Weaver, too. They all talked about how they felt like their work meant something to the community, like it was more than just murals, but creating city pride. That’s all Caruso could ask for.
“It’s humbling,” she said. “I feel like we’ve found our people, and I feel grateful for that.”
To volunteer with Sprocket Mural Works or to learn more about what they do, visit www.sprocketmuralworks.com.
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