A group of 20 Peekskill elementary school students were given a golden opportunity to add life to the City’s vibrant landscape. In return, they gave the community the gift of their budding artistry reflecting thoughtful interpretations on their world and ours.
Arts10566, the prominent not-for-profit headed by Executive Director Wilfredo Morel that “provides free access to the arts for Peekskill youth,” organized the initiative to create murals on the exterior wall of Home Mason Supply, at 400 Central Avenue.
Peekskill resident Kristine Keller, a teaching artist who runs classes for Arts 10566 at Assumption Church, “came in once a week to work with the kids and gather their thoughts on ideas they wanted to put into the mural,” said Arts 10566 administrator Tamarah Bridgewater, of Ossining. “Along with getting to draw freely in the classroom, the students had conversations about themselves and things that were important to them.” That included their individual cultures, community connection, and self-identity.
Apple iPads were used to create 3D images and record their ideas and information, to be used for QR codes that could be accessed through the images. They learned graphing and scale to enlarge their drawings. For the finishing touch, they transferred their creations to the Home Mason Supply wall with vibrant acrylic paints.
In addition to the student artists, there were about 30 or more community residents on hand to work on the wall-to-wall mural.
While the students were getting an opportunity to immerse themselves in art, the bigger picture to appreciate is creating the mural helps the children explore their contributions to society. They’re learning about the diversity of cultures that make up the world. In some of the children’s art designs, flags from various nations are depicted, prompting mural observers to try matching the right country to each flag.
With stories of violence and divisiveness dominating news media, community-building projects take on added relevance.
“You see crazy stuff happening right now in some neighborhoods — it’s awful,” said Wilfredo Morel. “Let’s use art as a way to communicate and learn something.”
Many of the students participating in the creation of Peekskill’s art mural come from difficult home environments, dealing with family situations that are extremely challenging. Participating in the mural allows the children to engage in art and culture in a way they may have not experienced before.
“The greatest opportunity that we have here is to create change, and to really truly teach [these students] lessons that they can absorb,” said Morel.
Although the mural is directly created by Peekskill schoolchildren, the overall project encompasses the community at large. Families and local businesses all have played their own roles, from simply being witnesses of the art creation to serving as event sponsors, including Empire Grant funding through the Peekskill School District, Peekskill Brewery owner Keith Berardi, who is chair of Arts 10566, Bre Pettis of Bantam Tools, Hope for Youth Foundation, and Keith Bovolia of Home Mason Supply, who provided use of his wall and made a donation to help pay the professional artists. Arts 10566 also thanks the Lanza Foundation for its ongoing support.
“It’s not just one person that does something. It’s everyone in the community that has a hand in [the mural],” added Bridgewater, who has been reaching out to other organizations in the community, advocating the creation of more public art projects.
“Murals have become really big now,” she said. “Everyone is into them. I absolutely foresee something happening, definitely in Peekskill and hopefully outside here as well.”
Alex Horowitz is a freelance writer currently living in New York City. He grew up in Briarcliff Manor, where his family still resides.