BY NATHAN STROUT
Times Record Staff
The Bath Youth Meetinghouse and Skate Park is coming alive with color and design thanks to a mural designed and created by youth from the middle and high schools.
“They had murals at the old skatepark, and the kids were wanting something because it was just all this gray wall and it was just kind of boring,” said Kelly Christopher, a teaching artist with ArtVan. “So the kids wanted something on the walls.”
ArtVan is a nonprofit mobile arts therapy program designed to serve underprivileged communities.
Its staff has worked with local teens to conceive, design and paint, which covers the back wall of the skate park and wraps around toward the green doors on either side.
“We did a lot of sketching in the first four weeks on large pieces of paper. The first week we did on small paper: What does community mean to you?” said Christopher. “Then we morphed into larger scale paper so the kids could take their smaller sketches that they’re used to doing on a grander scale.
“We looked at some other murals to get some ideas,” she added. “We talked about colors, trying to stay away from words, keeping it positive.”
With a theme of “community” to tie the mural together, students were free to express themselves.
“We talked a lot about what does a mural mean, what this mural should mean at a skatepark,” said Christopher. “So it’s based on community and what that means to each kid. And then, of course, they’ve put in their own little flair too.”
The students were impacted in different ways with the project.
“I really like hanging out with the staff of ArtVan,” said 11th grade student Jalin Smith, while painting an abstract design on one of the few remaining blank section of the wall. “I just like painting. So it was a win-win I guess.”
“Abstract is really the easiest for me. It doesn’t specifically have to be anything,” she added. “I could just be a bunch of colors.”
Ninth grade student Aria Quesada took a more structured approach as she worked on her section.
“This is pride art, kind of. It’s more of like sexuality and orientation sort of thing,” she said. “Like a reminder to be proud of who you are. And ‘Breathe,’ it’s kind of like a reminder to yourself to just chill and calm down.”
For Quesada, it’s nice to have a place to express herself through art.
“I decided to take this opportunity because I don’t really get a chance to express myself, so I wanted to put something out there!” she said. “It makes me feel proud. I really like that (it will be part of the skate park), because I’ve left my mark somewhere.”
Christopher noted that projects like this are important as an outlet for self expression.
“It affords them a safe place to express themselves. If something’s going on in their world, instead of lashing out and being angry, they can express it in their art,” she said. “It’s OK to be happy. It’s OK to be angry. It’s OK to be sad. Whatever your emotions are, you can get it down in a safe environment.”
Jamie Silvestri, an art therapist and founder of ArtVan said that it previously had a program at Bath Middle School, and was glad to return to work with many of the students again.
“ArtVan had done a program at Bath Middle School for a number of years,” she said, “and it was very successful because it was youth of that age range who are part of our neighborhood programs that were looking and seeking a deeper meaning to their art, a bigger opportunity to express themselves.”
Students have been working on the mural since mid-September, and will be finishing up next week.
Jamie Dorr, president of Bath Youth Meetinghouse & Skate Park, said she hoped the project would also open up the facility to students who wouldn’t typically hang out at the meetinghouse.
“We wanted to add a little bit of vibrancy and color to the Skate Park,” she said, “and also be able to provide students who might not traditionally come into the skate park with a way to just come and be involved and realize what a great space this is.”
Dorr added that the meetinghouse would be pursuing other ways to bring in more teens in the coming year.
“For us as a teen center, we’re really trying to create opportunities for teenagers to engage,” she said. “In world that is sort of dominated by online connections, we would love to have more in person, real life connections for our teens.”
For one student at least, the mural project may be a first step in spending more time at the skate park.
“I’ve never come here before,” said Quesada, “but I might start coming here more frequently because I had this opportunity.”