When Kelli Bickman moved to Peekskill, New York she quickly noticed that public art was severely lacking. A mural painter, she thought the Youth Bureau would be a great place to hang a large youth driven piece of artwork. Securing the grants for her Youth Mural Arts program and getting the necessary approvals came with the usual complexities, but she was greeted with some unexpected skepticism that is almost as priceless as the Painters for Piece mural that will soon be mounted outside of 840 Main Street.
"Well, we thought maybe you were an undercover operation set up by the
Artists working within the system of grants and legal public interaction was the first lesson, but the journey to the top of the wall has larger implications. "I'm trying to get them to think about the world in a different way," she says.
In other words, she believes a lot of suffering takes place in our own minds and if peace can be made within ourselves, we can bring it forward into the world. So she asked her students, "What does peace mean to you?" Out of those thoughts and discussions, artistic concepts began to emerge.
She then assigned a quadrant to each of her four college students and got them to run with the ideas. Not leaving the nine to 16 year olds out, their ideas would find a home inside smaller circles within each quad. Looking for a common thread, she says, "I took all the drawings home and figured out how to tie it all together."
With the scale model sketched out, the older students took charge of their quadrants and turned teacher in the techniques that they could share with the youngers. "The younger students are putting into practice whatthey learned to finish what remains," she says.
All in all, the mentoring aspect of the project naturally flowed from top to bottom. For instance, an episode in spray paint schooling exemplified the spirit she's trying to get across. Reluctant to let go, nine year old Naim Michens, got the picture from 20 year old Daniel Aquiro. "Do whatever comes to mind," Ms. Bickman recalled Daniel's directive.
Stepping back and getting out of himself, he sprayed the word, "Hope." "It was a powerful moment," she says.
Still, having a passion or proficiency for painting is not a requirement to take part. Welcoming everyone in the community, she says, "we have everything from the illustrators and designers to the little worker bees to paint out the blanks," says the queen bee from her perch.
Looking forward, she hopes others in the area can join the generosity of Arts Westchester, PeekskillBID and the Peekskill Rotary with more funding so the program grows to a point where she can actually pay her older apprentices, but overall it's not really about going green. "It's giving the kids a sense of pride in themselves and their community," she says.
On the other hand, it doesn't hurt in pursuit of future endeavors when city hall is the room with a view. Getting to see the benefits of public art right outside their windows, she says, "I kind of like that idea."
It sounds like she's given peace a good place to start in the city of Peekskill.