Jenny Mathews paints a broken window at Social, 509 E. State St., on Tuesday, Oct. 24, 2023, in downtown Rockford. Her work was part of Smash Art, a project to help local businesses after a vandal damaged multiple windows. (Photo by Kevin Haas/Rock River Current)

  • A complete list of businesses and participating artists is at the bottom of this story

By Kevin Haas
Rock River Current
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ROCKFORD — A random act of vandalism left a string of downtown businesses with boarded up windows. It’s a look that paints the wrong picture of the city’s downtown for visitors.

Now, a group of local artists are painting the right picture.

Eight broken and boarded up business windows along East State Street will be turned into mini murals this week under a project led by the Rockford Area Convention & Visitors Bureau, River District Association and Rockford Area Arts Council.

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They’re calling it Smash Art, and the goal is to give downtown a better look while business owners wait for their window replacements to arrive. Eight artists are handling one project each, with a goal for it to be complete in time for Saturday’s downtown trick-or-treating event called Spook the Blocks.

Artist Carly Rose Marinaro, who is painting a board that covers a broken window pane at Wired Cafe, 414 E. State St., said the project turns something that could be intimidating or scary into something beautiful.

“When you see broken windows, you feel like ‘is that dangerous,'” she said. “This is one way to let the community know that our city is doing something positive.”

Carly Rose Marinaro begins painting on Tuesday, Oct. 24, 2023, at Wired Cafe in downtown Rockford. She is one of eight artists participating in Smash Art, which turned broken windows into mini murals. (Photo by Kevin Haas/Rock River Current)

The windows were busted Oct. 4 when a man started throwing rocks through several businesses in the 400 and 500 blocks of East State Street. A 33-year-old man was charged with felony criminal damage to property.

“It doesn’t, I don’t think, reflect at all upon the nature of the shopping, dining and entertainment experience downtown. So we wanted to turn that around,” said John Groh, who leads the visitors bureau and the River District. “We have a wonderfully creative community full of what I think are some brilliant and talented artists.”

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Groh has worked with local and national artists for the past four years as his team organizes the annual CRE8IV: transformational Art mural initiative. He reached out to Mary McNamara Bernsten of the arts council and Mayor Tom McNamara to pitch the Smash Art project. Then they started connecting with downtown business owners and the artists who would handle the work.

“I think it says a lot about our artists that they so quickly said yes, and it is really indicative of the close relationship of the creative community,” Groh said. “They saw a need and an opportunity to bring their skills and talent and creativity to bear to help somebody else out.”

Elena Martinez, who owns Exquisite Cuts and Shaves at 420 E. State St., said it was disappointing to see the entrepreneurs who are trying to make downtown thrive affected by the vandalism. She was encouraged to see how quickly people stepped up to help out.

Laura Gomel, an artist and executive director of 317 Art Collaborative, will create the coverage for Exquisite’s broken window.

“Rockford is coming together to try and make the best of the situation that happened,” Martinez said.

Artist Jenny Mathews painted this mini mural over a broken window pane on Tuesday, Oct. 24, 2023, at Social Charcuterie Bar & Cocktails, 509 E. State St. in downtown Rockford. (Photo by Kevin Haas/Rock River Current)

Crystal Douglas, the owner of Wired Cafe, said she’s working with Roscoe Glass to replace her broken window. The glass had to be specially ordered and will take a few weeks to arrive, leaving plywood covering the broken glass for an extended period of time.

“It’s not good for downtown to have all these boarded up windows,” Douglas said. “Art is a big part of downtown, and this allows the artists to get out there and do their thing. It’s something good coming out of something bad.”

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Artist and muralist Jenny Mathews was the first to complete her project on Tuesday morning. It captures the hues of a setting sun with backlit plants in the foreground. The painting covers a tall window pane at Social Charcuterie Bar & Cocktails, 509 E. State St.

“Anytime I can help my neighbors, my friends and make downtown pretty, I’m in,” she said. “I think paint makes everything better immediately.”

Smash Art locations and artists

Social Charcuterie Bar & Cocktails, 509 E. State St.: Jenny Mathews

Lucette, 508 E. State St.: Drew Eurek

Woodfire, 408 E. State St.: Brett Whitacre

Altamore Law, 401 E. State St.: Pablo Korona

The Underground, 418 E. State St., Asia Peters

Wired Cafe, 414 E. State St.: Carly Rose

Exquisite Cuts and Shaves, 420 E. State St.: Laura Gomel

Sisters Thai Cafe, 514 E. State St.: Dysen White

This article is by Kevin Haas. Email him at or follow him on X at @KevinMHaas or Instagram @thekevinhaas and Threads @thekevinhaas

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