Bridge Story

The Community Bridge mural project transformed a plain concrete bridge in Frederick, Maryland, near Washington D.C., into the stunning illusion of an old stone bridge. Artist William Cochran and his assistants painted the entire structure by hand, using advanced trompe l'oeil ("deceive the eye") techniques. Many people walk by it and never realize they have been fooled. Once they grasp that the bridge is actually an artwork, visitors discover that there are mysterious carvings in the stones, images too numerous to count. They represent symbols and stories contributed by thousands of people from all over the community, across the country, and around the world. These co-creators have made Community Bridge an inspiring symbol of common ground.
Community Bridge during The Festival of the Arts in June 1995. The Carroll Street Bridge is located in the most urban part of what will be Carroll Creek Park, the city's premier economic delelopment project.

In early 1993, artist William Cochran proposed the bridge project because of the structure’s strategic location at the urban center of the long-planned Carroll Creek Park, Frederick's key economic development project. This linear park site is positioned along the symbolic racial and economic dividing line in the city. The park plan was stalled by controversy and disagreement until the bridge project engaged the participation of the community to build a symbol of common ground. It became a catalyst for revitalization and a symbol of connection and the spirit of community.

At first, however, Community Bridge itself became swept into the controversy. Many letters to the local newspaper expressed outrage at such a novel idea, "painting a bridge on a bridge," as talk radio host David Brenner put it. Yet Cochran had asked the town before to trust his vision, to let him paint small detailed murals on buildings in Frederick City's treasured historic district. Those murals with their dreamlike imagery were also controversial when first proposed, but upon completion they had become quiet landmarks. That history gave the public confidence in the bridge project proposal.

Once the proposal was approved, the artist decided to invite 173,000 people, the residents of the area, to collaborate on this ambitious artwork. Shared Vision spearheaded the massive public outreach called Bridge Builders that asked individuals to contribute ideas to the bridge artwork, to become co-creators with the artist. Countless ideas were collected, and they shaped every part of the bridge mural.

Preparing the Canvas
The mural plan had numerous hurdles to overcome - permits, permissions, fundraising, technical issues and artistic challenges. Want more bridge facts?
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Cochran painting trompe l'oeil algae stains on the illusory fountain in "The Forgotten Song."
Building a Bridge
For all the challenges it faced, Community Bridge became a reality. Thousands of people across the community helped create a complex, richly layered artwork that drew more national attention with each passing month during its creation. The story of the bridge and the community that created it began to appear in regional and national magazines and newspapers — hundreds to date. Television news programs also featured the bridge effort, and this web site accelerated the broadcasting of the artist's question. As a result, ideas from across the USA and around the world began to stream in, and the artist added many to the bridge.

The bridge now contains ideas from as far away as Bosnia, Nova Scotia, South Africa, Argentina, Indonesia, India, Saudi Arabia, the Netherlands and more. It has become a symbol for shared values all over the world. It draws tens of thousands of visitors to Frederick every year, and the money they spend attracts development and fosters revitalization efforts in the city, bringing needed jobs downtown. The project is a model that demonstrates the efficiency and reach of participatory public art, showing that it can be an economic, social, and cultural asset simultaneously.

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