OCDC Selects Ocean Bowl Mural Design; Residents Voice Opposition

OCDC Selects Ocean Bowl Mural Design; Residents Voice Opposition
The above rendering shows the selected mural design, created by artist Jeff Huntington. Submitted Image

OCEAN CITY – The Ocean City Development Corporation (OCDC) has selected an Annapolis-based artist to complete a mural at the Ocean Bowl Skate Park.

Following a months-long vetting process, the OCDC on Tuesday announced it had selected Jeff Huntington, a professional artist working under the name JAHRU, to paint his submitted design at the Ocean Bowl Skate Park later this year.

The organization said more than 60 artists applied for the project and three artists were selected in the fall to design concepts for the mural. Of those three artists, Huntington was selected as the winning design.

“Jeff’s experience with large outdoor murals and the caliber of work he’s done in the past were major factors,” said OCDC Executive Director Zach Bankert. “We also loved that Jeff plans to involve local youth in the actual painting of the mural. For those kids that help Jeff, it will create a feeling of ownership with the mural and hopefully foster a lifelong love of art.”

Huntington is a professional working artist with 30-plus years of experience, a BFA from the Corcoran School of Art and an MFA from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. In addition to a portfolio of two-dimensional gallery work, Huntington has completed more than 150 murals across five countries, with his largest mural to date being more than 7000 square feet.

While Huntington is based out of Annapolis, the OCDC reports he spent time and lived in Ocean City.

“I lived in Ocean City during my teenage years. This was a defining moment in my life,” Huntington said in a statement. “I dropped out of high school in the 9th grade and floundered for a moment. In 1987, an older friend and I rented an apartment on 8th Street behind Thrashers where I worked. I’d been exploring oil painting, drawing psychedelic posters, and making tie-dyes for T-shirt shops along the boardwalk.”

He continued, “I befriended a crew of older kids from New Jersey who lived downstairs from me and, to make a long story short, when they learned that I was a dropout and a minor, they became my surrogate mom and encouraged me to get a G.E.D. Which I did. This allowed me to go to art school and changed the trajectory of my life.

The OCDC reports a selection committee – comprised of representatives from the OCDC, Ocean City Recreation and Parks Department, the Art League of Ocean City, the DTA Public Art Committee, and local mural artists – considered multiple factors, including the aesthetics and composition of the submitted designs, the portfolio of past work of the applicants, and the mural painting experience of the applicant, when making their choice.

“We had a difficult decision to make,” Bankert said. “The mural is going to be at a highly visible corner in town. It’s located at a historic skate park, but will also be seen and enjoyed by everybody that visits the park or uses St. Louis Ave. We had three unique designs to choose from and I feel we made a good decision. Our hope is that this project will open the door for more contemporary art in Ocean City.”

Several residents, however, took to Facebook this week to share their disappointment in OCDC’s selection. They argued that Ocean City-based artist Marc Emond, one of the three finalists, should have been chosen.

In a statement Tuesday, Emond echoed residents’ sentiments. However, he congratulated Huntington on his winning design.

“I am naturally disappointed not to be chosen to create the mural,” he said. “I thank the local community for the support they have shown. I congratulate Jeff Huntington on being chosen, he is a very talented artist.”

Last June, the OCDC announced it had received grant funding from the Maryland State Arts Council as part of the Public Arts Across Maryland Program to design a mural for the Ocean Bowl Skate Park. The money was ultimately used to complete the planning stages of the project and seek Maryland-based artists to submit portfolios of work that aligns with the scope of the project.

“We think the updated park is going to be a great resource for Downtown OC and we are excited to have an opportunity to further enhance the space,” Bankert said last year. “The goal for the mural is the celebrate Ocean City’s strong skate and surf culture, while providing a piece of modern art for the public to enjoy.”

As part of the next phase, the OCDC is currently applying for funds to complete the mural, with the goal to have the mural painted later this year after construction is completed at the Downtown Recreation Complex.

The OCDC is encouraging the public to view Huntington’s website, www.JeffHuntington.com to view his portfolio. Huntington is also the co-founder of Future History Now, a 501(c)3 nonprofit that facilitates collaborative mural projects with youth facing adversity in underserved communities. For more information about the organization, visit www.FutureHistoryNow.org.

As part of its mission to revitalize downtown Ocean City, the OCDC has a long history of public art projects in Ocean City. The OCDC has spearhead multiple large outdoor sculptures (such as the White Marlin at Entry Park), numerous downtown murals and wall panels and dozens of painted utility boxes.

About The Author: Bethany Hooper

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Bethany Hooper has been with The Dispatch since 2016. She currently covers various general stories. Hooper graduated from Stephen Decatur High School in 2012 and the University of Maryland in 2016, where she completed double majors in journalism and economics.