PUBLIC SERVICE GROUP FILLS NEGATIVE SPACES
Filling negative spaces.
This is the most intriguing initiative of Imagine Gary, a creative arts community service project that kicked off Saturday at the juncture of volunteer mentors and city youth.
Actually, it took place at the intersection of 15th Ave. and Massachusetts St., where dozens of talented Gary residents, ages 17 to 25, joined a handpicked team of working professionals.
It didn’t matter that it was hot, humid and threated to storm. Or that some of the youth were painting a mural for the first time. What mattered is that they filled negative space there, as well as, hopefully, in their minds.
“We’re here to not only beautify our community but also to empower and inspire our youth,” said Alicia Nunn, executive director of the public service group ARISE (Accountability – Respect – Innovation – Success - Entrepreneurship). “We wanted to expose the kids to the history of this property but also to the hope for their future.”
Through creative “place making,” they painted murals at the Stewart House Urban Farm and Garden with help from Creative Initiatives for the Public Space, LiveArts Studio, Christ United Methodist Church and a professional artist, Ish Muhhamad.
“These kids are great. They’re talented and eager to express themselves,” said Muhhamad, of Hammond, who’s been creating cuttingedge art projects for three decades.
Last week, he led the group in a studio workshop, teaching them how to paint the mural on Saturday. This group of young Gary artists-in-the-works included Jerry Crisler, Justin Brooks and Martrell Por, who dripped both sweat and satisfaction from their efforts.
The property at that corner is owned by Christ United Methodist Church, where members plant and harvest sustainable food for the community. The site is the former home of the Stewart Settlement House, which for nearly 50 years sheltered and aided blacks who migrated from the south to Gary for steel mill jobs.
“The church started this garden and we wanted to spruce it up with this art project,” Nunn said as kids took turns to paint a 40- by 10-foot metal storage container.
“Before this mural was painted, this container was just covered with rust,” said Dionte Glover, an ARISE board member and youth coordinator.
Glover also is co-owner of 444 Grill in the Miller section of the city, which houses weekly performance arts shows by the youth. His job, in part, is to polish their natural talents through various arts, such as poetry, rap music and even playing spoons.
“I just stand back, coach them and watch them take off,” he told me. “I almost came to tears when I watched them put all their skills and talents together for that last show.”
The overall project was inspired by a Montreal-based, multi-artist collaboration that drew from youth curriculum, titled En Masse Pour Les Masses. Through similar initiatives, that group has hosted mural projects at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago and the University of Chicago.
The concept is for participants to be given the opportunity to work collaboratively on large-scale blackand-white productions, guided by artists who take on a mentorship role, Nunn said. Their hands-on approach allows artists to empower, inspire, and pass-on knowledge to all those involved. In turn, participants develop a sense of ownership, pride, and ambition for their own personal practice, she added.
The new Imagine Gary project swirls together resources from several groups on the same public palette. This includes Creative Initiatives for the Public Space, an organization dedicated to arts-based solutions for community prosperity and social good, and LiveArts Studio in Gary.
“This style is similar to the way I teach my art classes,” said owner Desire’e Simpson.
She helped the youth create symbols, images and words to illustrate what the urban garden at that site represents, both its past and future. This was first done on a drawing board where students learned how to fill negative spaces, both artistically and then philosophically.
“We have a beautiful assembly here of what everyone contributed,” she said while overseeing the mural project.
Another key aspect of the project is to mix together different generations of artists, mentors and volunteers, each one using broad brushstrokes of their experiences. There are several similar mural projects in the works, with the next one scheduled for August.
“We’ve been talking about doing something like this for a year,” Nunn said, using an umbrella to shelter her from the sun. “This is the new legacy we’re trying to create here, to revitalizing Gary one negative space at a time.”
Gary youth and their creative mentors paint murals at the Stewart House Urban Farm and Garden on Saturday.
Alicia Nunn, from the public activist group Arise, directs Gary youth to paint murals at the Stewart House Urban Farm and Garden at 15th Ave. and Massachusetts St. on Saturday.