As the sun slowly peeked over the stark winter horizon, Methuen native Anna Dugan settled into her seat on the commuter train day after day for close to a month. Rising in the dark to board the train from Salem, Mass., to Boston, she kept her destination to herself and her family. Wanting to shout from the rooftops – or at least post on social media – she managed to hold her secret close and get the job done, but it was no easy task for this gregarious artist.

When the press releases finally emerged, Dugan was relieved, but also overwhelmed with emotion as she was approached by several news outlets, and social media began to blow up with the story. The photos showed the humble Methuen High School alum (Class of 2008) standing proudly in front of her explosive and vibrant mural – “Community of Belonging” – permanently installed on the walls of Boston’s iconic TD Garden, and she could not be more proud.

It all began when Salem resident Dugan was tagged in an Instagram post.

“My friend Jon Rodenhiser came across a call to artists from TD Garden, and he said he thought that I would be perfect for it,” she says. “I was flattered that he felt that I would be a good fit for such a massive project at this iconic venue, considering how many talented artists we have in New England.”

TD Garden, in collaboration with TD Bank, was seeking to commission an artist for their inaugural House Artist program. Through the Access the Arts initiative, artists from underrepresented New England communities were invited to pitch their ideas for an art installation that would activate the entryway to TD Garden. The theme was “Our Home.”

“I was certain that I would not be chosen, but I told myself that it would only be one-hundred percent a no if I did not apply,” says Dugan. “As an artist, I constantly fight off imposter syndrome. I thought that taking this risk would be good practice for me, that I deserved to throw my hat in the ring, and that just applying would be satisfaction enough.”

She sent in her application and moved on. Months later, Filipino-American muralist Dugan was in the Philippines with her extended family visiting other family members and touring museums as a NEFA grant recipient.

“This was a once-in-a-lifetime trip for my family,” she says.

During the vacation, she received an e-mail congratulating her on being chosen as the first TD Garden artist.

“At first I thought it was a scam,” she laughs. “My husband and I read it over and over, and then showed it to the rest of the family. As the reality sunk in, was so perfect that I was surrounded by all the people who continue to support my art when I got the news.”

The project began at the end of January, and includes two walls each measuring 11 feet tall by 25 feet wide. Dugan was asked to keep things under wraps so that TD Garden could issue a formal press release as the installation was completed.

“It killed me that I couldn’t share this big news as well as post my progress on social media,” says Dugan. “I like to get information out there to inspire other artists. It’s not about me; I think that seeing human hands making art shows artists it can be done. And it was such a massive project with so many stories!”

The first step was a walk-though at the site, as Dugan discussed her vision for the mural she was about to paint.

“The people at TD really trusted my vision,” she says. “It is rare for an artist to be allowed two hands on the wheel like that, especially when you are working with such a large and prestigious brand like TD.

“My first thought about the ‘Home’ concept was to feature the legends who performed at the Garden, from musicians to athletes like Larry Bird,” says Dugan. “But as I stood in the space, I thought about all the elements that combine to make visits to this place magical. And it’s not just the people who perform; it’s the fans and the people who work there who all come together to make it a memorable experience.”

Dugan was invited to attend a Bruins game, a Celtics game and a concert, where she took reference photos of ushers, food servers and attendees.

“The hardest part, then, was to whittle down who made it into the mural,” she says. “I tried to find people who gave off a certain energy. At the Celtics game, for instance, I approached a father and son and asked if they minded a photo. I explained that I might or might not use it for reference in the mural, and the kid’s eyes lit up. He was so excited. I later thought about that moment. Here was a father and son enjoying a basketball game. My mural could immortalize them. That kid could take his kids to a game years later and say, ‘That’s your grandfather and me’. My artwork could create threads through generations, through neighbors, through communities. It was not necessarily about these two people that I included in my mural, but what a beautiful universal truth it is that a place like TD Garden creates such memorable moments.”

For the next month, Dugan commuted to Boston almost daily.

“I could not paint during events, so I had to be there early and be gone by 3pm to give the paints time to dry before evening,” she says. “I use interior house paint, so it dries pretty quickly.”

The areas were roped off, but passers-by could get a peek at her progress, and the project was explained on nearby posters.

“But unless you happened to be at TD Garden while this was in progress, you would not have known about this project,” she says.

Now that the mural has been completed and the news is out, Dugan can share her excitement with her friends and social media contacts. Admittedly an emotional person, she says she has burst into tears of joy more than once.

“I have basically dehydrated myself,” she laughs. “This project is so monumental, and I put so much heart into it. I put so much intention into all my murals, but this was probably the highlight of my career as an artist. And the fact that my family experienced the journey along with me is so important to me. I have been truly blessed to have such a strong support system, people who believed in me even when I doubted myself.”

“Anna Dugan’s work embodies the inclusive and joyful spirit that TD Garden aims to cultivate,” said Glen Thornborough, president of TD Garden, in a press release. “Her bold use of color, compelling storytelling, and unique perspective truly transforms the arena’s entrance, enhancing the sense of community and belonging we strive to foster. We extend our gratitude to TD Bank for their ongoing partnership and bringing such transformative art within our walls through the House Artist Program.”

“This has been such an honor,” says Dugan. “To be able to stand in such a place and say that this is my work is surreal to me. My passion for creating public art lies in my belief that art can affect people positively. How powerful is it to be able to affect someone’s mood when they walk through a door?”

Dugan’s clever business name is Annadidathing. These days, as she is still shaking her head in disbelief at her latest feat, she might want to consider changing it to AnnadidaBIGthing.

Patricia Bruno is a Methuen native, currently living in Haverhill. A writer and photographer, she is also the owner of The Winged Rabbit gift shop in downtown Haverhill.

*To read more about Anna Dugan, see our post from 2022 here: dugans-art-can-uplift-an-area’s-vibe

‘CELEBRATION OF BELONGING’

Artist Anna Dugan shared her thoughts on the meanings behind the TD Garden murals. Here’s her March 18 Facebook post: “Celebration of Belonging “These murals were created from the theme ‘Our Home.’ I believe home is more about a sense of belonging, rather than location. TD Garden is a piece of home to so many people because of the togetherness and camaraderie if offers through the events held there. Whether you are rooting for the same team or singing along to the same songs, you don’t have to be born in this exact location to feel that sense of home. “It connects us, in some ways even through time – cheering for the same uniform and colors as our friends or relatives did, with different people wearing those same colors through the decades. I wanted this mural to pay homage to some of the legends that have helped us create that sense of home at TD, but also the other elements that make it special. Not only celebrating the people like Larry Bird or Phil Esposito or James Brown, but the people like you or me. The fans. The ushers. The attendants. This mural is meant to celebrate all the components that makes the Garden the special place it is. The place that is our home.”