KIDS ON THE HILL

by Rebecca Yenawine

Swatches of blue, red smears, fingers covered with all the colors mixed together, making dark brown hands the color of slick mud. It could not have been too long after I was born that I began to make art, first with fingers and later in pencil, a series of lead circles, squares, all shapes irregular and in between too. Then I made people, I looked at the shapes of lights and darks in a face and translated light through brush onto paper. Color, shape and light were safe and gorgeous worlds to inhabit.

Now art happens in me when I want to understand the thing that is just outside myself. I have to first open up, let the thing become a jumble inside then something comes clear, like a cloud that rains itself dray and blue.

I took art classes throughout high school in upstate New York with Nicholas Buhalis. He taught me to understand the masters and nurtured my creativity until I reached 18 and decided to go to an art college in Baltimore.

After school, I decided to settle in Baltimore and bought a house in an economically and radically diverse neighborhood. Through working in my yard, I made friends with neighborhood young people who like to play in the alley. One day I invited a couple of the kids in to see the house and drink apply juice. They played the piano, drew and danced. They kept coming and they rapidly grew in numbers. Based on the time I spent with them, I found there were many talented young people in the bunch and I began to try to get them into classes in the arts. From here, a program called Kids on the Hill began which has now grown to become a non-profit. The program helps young people into classes in the arts, creates public art with them, contains a mentoring program and is expanding to offer music, art and theater classes within the neighborhood.

The most amazing part of this program for me has been making public art with young people. Art was always a solo experience that was then shared with a select few. Public art made art accessible to everyone and was created with other people. The first project began one day after I caught a couple teenage girls that I knew with spray paint, I invited them in my house, took the spray paint, and gave them a drawing lesson. They had a great time and urged me to teach weekly art classes. At that time I also obtained permission to paint over the boarded up windows and doors of three abandoned buildings. The young people ended up making mostly self portraits so that they could show the neighborhood who they were in a powerful and positive way. The buildings are still vacant and boarded and I still see many neighborhood kids look up to admire them as they walk to school.

The second public art project created was by young mothers. The impetus for the project came through spending time with these women and finding many of the assumptions I had and much of society has about being a young mother were untrue. Since these women were also very interested in photographs, we decided to take pictures that would show the realities of being a young mother. The mothers took many pictures of each other and then picked out the good ones which we framed and now show in cafés in Baltimore. Some made captions for the pictures and these will be displayed on the side of Baltimore city buses throughout the upcoming year. Also out of this work, we decided to create a documentary which reveals that these women, though they are young, are still able of being caring and nurturing parents as well as still capable of going after their goals and dreams.

Through both projects the young people and young adults involved saw themselves differently, contributed something to their neighborhoods and to all who saw their work, and ultimately felt their voice was important. It allowed people to see each other beyond prejudices, in human, real ways.

For me these are the most powerful art projects I have been part of. Facilitating other to make art keeps me remembering that everyone has the ability to create things and that each voice is completely valuable.

See the accompanying photo collage of Kids on the Hill


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