Artist Dan Fenelon, a Morristown favorite, chosen to design Newark mural to welcome Dalai Lama


When the Dalai Lama enters Newark for a peace conference next month, one of the first sights he is likely to see is a 1,500-square-foot mural designed by Madison artist Dan Fenelon.

Dan’s design beat out nearly three-dozen entries from around the world in a contest sponsored by the Barat Foundation and the Newark Interfaith Coalition for Hope and Peace.

Artist dan fenelon
Artist Dan Fenelon has won a contest to design a mural to welcome the Dalai Lama to Newark. Photo by Kadie Dempsey

Students from 14 Newark high schools will paint five-by-five-foot panels that will be glued, like puzzle pieces, to Integrity House, a drug rehabilitation center that borders Newark’s Lincoln Park.

Project organizers are hoping the Dalai Lama will place his mark on the mural during the Newark Peace Education Summit, scheduled for May 13-15 at the Prudential Center.

They also hope to recruit Newark Mayor Cory Booker for some painting. The mayor will kick off the star-studded summit that includes actress Goldie Hawn, wellness guru Deepak Chopra, Martin Luther King III and Nobel Peace Prize laureates Shirin Ebadi (Iranian civil rights) and Jody Williams (campaign to ban land mines).

If Dan gets anywhere near Tibet’s heavily guarded spiritual leader, that will be gravy.

“I’ll be happy if I get a wave from the Dalai Lama as he passes by,” the artist joked.

Inspired by Bugs Bunny cartoons and ancient Egyptian and Aztec motifs, Dan’s colorful “Urban Tribal” style was a unanimous choice by contest judges who included Mary Sue Sweeney-Price, director of the Newark Museum, and Newark Deputy Mayor Margarita Muniz, according to Gary Barat, co-founder of the Barat Foundation.

“The thing really had to have universal appeal,” Gary explained. “It wasn’t African. It wasn’t Latino. It was a bit of everything… it’s just spectacular.”

Gary, formerly of Montville, created the nonprofit Barat Foundation in Newark with his wife Chandri in 1997. They had been entrepreneurs in the natural foods industry when serious health issues caused them to rethink their goals.

Dan has created murals for the Montclair Art Museum and the Luna Stage Theatre in West Orange. He will help another well known muralist, Susan Daly, shepherd the Newark project to completion.

At 50-by-30-feet, it should be a piece of cake. Last year, Dan conjured up a 12o-foot-by-30 foot mural for a competition in Grand Rapids, Mich.

The Newark mural will be painted with exterior latex paints onto panels of paper-light fabric that have a consistency like laundry freshener sheets. Dan used a computer to design paint-by-numbers outlines for the panels.  The expected lifespan of such murals is about a decade, he said.

Dan’s fanciful sculptures have been displayed at Gallery Egan in Morristown and he is a frequent volunteer at town art events organized by his wife, photographer Kadie Dempsey, who works for the Arts Council of the Morris Area.

Educated at the School of the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, Dan has designed logos for Major League Baseball, the National Hockey League and the Discovery Channel’s American Choppers. Endlessly resourceful, he has built a battery powered go-kart–a big hit at the Art of the Bicycle show at Marty’s Reliable Cycle in Morristown– and invented a youth sportswear line called Wavedog.

The Montclair native said the Newark judges praised his style yet kicked back his initial entry, which contained an image of a Phoenix bird.

“They felt that was overused,” said Dan, 50.

The mural’s theme is Support and Protect Our Children. Gary Barat said Dan’s work epitomizes what the foundation is all about.

“It feels like Peace a Chance all over again,” said Gary, 68, who lived near the late John Lennon in New York in the 1970s.

The Barat Foundation’s motto, “engaging youth through the arts,” resonates with Dan. He is completing an artist residency at Newark’s Discovery Charter School. For the last few weeks, he has guided students aged 10-12 in crafting totemic figures from leather, feathers, string and anything else they can find.

“It’s a blast,” Dan said. “The kids are great.”

And if he could cadge some face time with His Holiness, the Dalai Lama, what would he say?

“I would thank him for all the great work he’s done to promote peace, despite the sacrifices he’s had to make,” Dan said.

WINNING DESIGN: Dan Fenelon's mural blueprint won a contest; Newark high schoolers will paint the mural to welcome the Dalai Lama in May. Image courtesy of Dan Fenelon

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