Updated: May 24
Place-making and Community-building take time. Here's what it's taken to get to today:
In March of 2021, I spoke with park-goers in Honesdale about the changes they wished to see happen there. I'd spy them from my office roost and run down the stairs, out the door and down a small hill to hear about their dreams, wishes, and needs for the unnamed county park that they were hanging out in. One of the identified needs was a place for young people to do art-officially, as the graffiti in the nearby tunnel where teens have hung out for generations was deemed a nuisance by some.
In May of 2021, I first shared some initial renderings of an imagined community mural on this100-foot-long wall. In June I began to formulate a plan for a semi-planned, self-policed community art tunnel, but by September it was clear that such a project wasn't going to receive the green light. And while I still have hopes for a free graffiti wall in Wayne County, I shelved it for a future initiative and went back to the drawing board to rework a way to put youth art on the walls of this old historic railroad trestle.
In January of 2022, I told a colleague of mine, Sep, about this project, and he told me about Artolution, which helps put community-designed, community-painted murals up across the world. I was inspired.
In February, I reworked the proposal to the commissioners as a youth-led design that they would see before it was painted. In March, a teammate of mine, David, pitched the idea to the Commissioners. They were intrigued, and gave us permission to pursue the project.
In April I met with local teachers, Kat and Sherman, and we figured out the details- when, who, where, how. Invites were sent to local leaders and student participants. We wanted to draw in a wide variety of ages, abilities, and perspectives- including those who hang out with their friends at the tunnel. And on April 22nd, the ideation sessions began.
Over three sessions, 11 students and 4 leaders discussed what they love about Wayne County as well as what they find challenging, practiced turning words into pictures, and then worked side-by-side to draw a cohesive mural, where the talents and interests of each participant could be showcased.
Early in May, I refined the mural on their behalf, based on their image and intent. It shows the beauty of our towns and rural areas, and it celebrates the history of those who have found a sense of freedom in Wayne County. It also shows reverence for events of local and national significance, and gives us a peek into the imaginative, creative, silly, thoughtful, minds of our young folks, who aren’t afraid to ask questions like, “what if the central park fountain was made of jello”, or “what if swings had wings?”
On May 10th, 2022, some students, local leaders, and us coordinators presented the mural to the Wayne County Commissioners. We entertained a few questions from the Commissioners about what "D20's" are (a twenty-sided die, used for Dungeons and Dragons story games) and if the word "jello" was slang for anything (nope!), and otherwise they expressed pride in the abilities and creativeness of our students, and felt the mural would be a positive addition to the park. They gave us the green light, and it was covered by a local TV station! We even received an on-the-spot donation of $100 from Commissioner Joe Adams, bringing us up to $1000 of the $1500 needed to purchase paint and other supplies. With a few student-made stickers to be sold in local shops, we should meet our goal easily!
Now the real fun begins. We're hoping to be finished with the mural by June 18th so that we can celebrate it on the morning of the Roots and Rhythm festival in Honesdale. Everyone is invited to help paint in a "paint by number" fashion. There will also be opportunities to add in your own designs in some spots. So if you'd like to donate or help, we could use your support in bringing this year-long effort in community placemaking to life. We're almost there!
This project couldn't have gotten this far without the kind words, encouragement, time, and help of many different people. David Hartung, Kim Emmet, Derek Williams, Arrah Fisher, Heather Spencer, Kat Beisel, Sherman Bronson, Sep Riahi, Heather Bannan, Jim Hamill, The SOC Parks group, the Wayne County Commissioners Joss, Brian, and Joe, the students at Wallenpaupauk and Wayne Highlands, and the principals, subs, and parents who made it possible to take them out of class for six hours to work on a meaningful community development project together. Community building takes all of us- I literally could not have done it alone. But again, we're not finished, and hopefully this is just the beginning, so get involved and stay tuned- you're a part of this, too!