Its been two weeks since we finished our first on-site murals at Carter Street R-Center, led by phenomenal guest artist Vince Ballentine- and we’re still processing the experience! A muralist and multi-dimensionally talented artist, Vince came all the way from Brooklyn to paint with us for the week. Just an hour into starting on the first day, it would have been easy to convince anyone watching that Vince had always been a part of our group- he fit right in, bonding quickly with our artists and seamlessly going from person to person to offer suggestions and praise. The final set of murals – each representing a different culture, yet tied together with flowing thematic elements- are a stunning debut for our team. Located right in the entrance to the Center, they are easy to spot and made for a particularly dynamic experience- there was constant activity in the areas we were painting, and many children watched, wide-eyed, as these teens worked their magic on the walls. Read on to hear the team share their account of our first week on location on the job.
What did you think about working on-site at an R-Center for the first time? Was it different in any way from what you expected? How did it feel to be looked at as an artist painting on the walls?
Lily: Working at an R-Center for the first time was exciting! I didn’t have any high expectations besides focusing on finishing the murals within 3 days. It felt great to be acknowledged as an “official” artist, where we painted in front of a community.
McKenzie: The people in the center were really respectful and gave us space to make sure that we were able to do our work and even asked some really good questions about the mural. It was interesting to hear the kids ask the workers there what we were doing, and for them to respond that we were painting a mural for them. I’m not used to working in an environment where those who you’re making a piece for can watch you the entire time, but it was also nice to hear how the adults in the center enjoyed it and how the kids thought what we were doing was cool.
Nzinga: Though this is my third year in ROC Paint Division, I am still getting used to the R-Center atmosphere. The loudness of curious children and the squeaky sneaker noises on polished floors has become familiar. Working on-site at another R-Center this year is still nerve wracking to an extent. You hope that what we are doing is something that the children will like. At the end of the day it is their mural and you want them to be as happy as possible. The children look up to you as someone who is only about 5-10 years older than they are. I believe it gives them an inspiring push of creativity.
No: I personally feel good about working on the R-Center Murals because i really got the chance to see how it would really be like to be working while the area is very busy especially younger kids who really enjoy seeing us painting on their center walls. I feel great and proud of myself as people pass by seeing us paint those walls, and their comments really help me think that this work is far greater than just painting a wall. I feel like what we paint on those walls can bring a positive emotion to someone, just like a big smile from everyone that sees these murals.
How did you feel about the process of coming up with the sketches that were used?
Nzinga: The process in coming up with the sketches was a long thought process due to the expansion of our minds that Vince emphasized with the concept of “Reflections”. The sketches that everyone did ended up being very inspirational and good ideas for the eventual mural.
McKenzie: The process of coming up with sketches was actually really fun. We were able to pick the poses and people in the mural and figure out the ways we wanted them to interact with one another on the walls, allowing us to have a good amount of power over the mood and impact of the murals.
Amari: The process was easy once we all worked together to come up with the poses. I liked how Nzinga’s would go first with her pose, so the bubbles from her would send a chain reaction to the other bubbles; like they would be coming from her almost.
Mei: i loved the process! it was so much cooler to be more involved in the planning and reference photo process. Last year we mostly just saw the sketch and then filled it in, but this was much more interactive.
What was it like it to go to the center beforehand to talk with the kids? Did it influence how you felt once you started working at the center?
Nari: It was great going to the center beforehand because the kids were very sweet and engaged in what was coming to their rec-center. It was a good influence on me, because the kids were very well-behaved and they still were when more children came, everybody was so interested and it made me feel good.
Amari: To go to the center beforehand and talk to the kids about the theme was interesting. I liked to see how they interpret it, and I liked seeing their point of view on the theme of the mural. Just getting their input and listening to what they want to see was nice. And when we got there to start painting it was like we already knew the environment, so some of the pressure was kinda taken off since we had made a connection.
How did it feel to have a guest artist come all the way from Brooklyn to work with us? What did you learn from working with Vince specifically? What did you like about working with him?
Mei: I loved having a guest artist from out of town. I also loved that our guest artist was a black man with dreads. it’s different from last year because most of our guest artists were white, and that’s okay, but i enjoyed having a person of color lead us.
McKenzie: What I liked about working with Vince is that he looked at all of our skill sets and planned accordingly. He was able to put us in roles that allowed us to thrive and make a beautiful end result, while still being able to challenge and teach us new things along the way. Often I will get very into my own head and it will make me tighten up when doing something, which only makes the result look worse and for me to get more frustrated. He would continually tell me to loosen up and while it annoyed me at the time, eventually I was able to get more comfortable and start to get better results.
Amari: When Vince came out to rochester I thought like “wow we’re really important!” And people want to actually work with us. The idea that different artists from different places would come to help us with our murals is amazing. The lesson I got from Vince is to not be so stiff when I paint. Like don’t stress out over the littlest of things. Just let things flow and work on it and even though I wasn’t there the whole time i could tell that Vince was a chill laid back guy and i liked his energy.
No: I’m so glad and happy that we had someone that far to come to us just to help us out and i think it’s one of the best things about the program, to have many different artists come and join us to paint the murals. Something i learned from Vince while working with him is you shouldn’t always just work straight on a project, instead you should sometimes take some times off and recapture your thoughts and feeling than look at others to see as inspiration. Everything about working with him was great and i feel like we should have him back this year again or for the next year team because they would really like his style of art and his personality.
Lily: I felt privileged to have a guest artist come and paint with us! The part I liked working with him was the clear communication and how he made sure we were included during the whole process. In a way, he showed great leadership when it came to collaborating with other artists.
Mya: I thought it was so cool how Vince was willing to come all the way here and work with us. He taught me that it’s faster to fill in all the blank space first and then go back and do all the details. I liked how he told me exactly what to do since I work really well with a lot of instruction.
Did you have any memorable interactions while working at Carter?
Amari: Even though i wasn’t there the whole time, i heard from others that the kids I met when we visited were looking for me and that felt good. When I got there some of them came up and gave me a hug and we talked.
Mei: i remember i was helping direct one of the children’s art activities that Lisa set up. a little girl was drawing a puerto rican flag in her piece and was telling me about her grandmother’s house. her grandmother has a coqui frog with the puerto rican flag on it in her house. this was the same thing on the wall that has alex’s portrait. she really loved that there was something that directly related to her culture on the wall.
Nzinga: One memorable moment that stands out to me the most was the day before my birthday, I was surprised with a box of pizza. Many of the children in the center, along with the ROC Paint Division team, sang “Happy Birthday” to me. Though we were only there for 3 days the children and staff made me feel at home.
McKenzie: The one interaction that has stuck into my head, which is actually several interactions, is with one of the people who went to the center. Every time he would walk past our murals he would say how much he liked them and then say hello to everyone, and that just really stuck into my head.
Nari: A specific memorable moment I had was this one photo Lisa took of me talking to one of the kids about art and how he liked art, I told him to keep practicing and he will get better like I did. Also a memorable moment I had with Vince was when he called me Spam, it was so funny.
What do you hope the kids at Carter Street will get out of seeing these murals?
No: I hope the kids from Carter Center would get some feeling that they are special no matter what they represent based on seeing those murals. I hope they will know that no matter where they come from or who they are that they are the same people, who should love and respect one and another. The ones that said that they wanted to paint just like us, I really hope this program will keep running so they can be part of the team and do something just like what we have done.
McKenzie: I hope that the kids at the center will simply be able to find some aspect of themselves in the mural. We painted this with the thought of representation in mind, and I hope that the kids are able to find themselves in a reflection of that.
Nari: I hope they can feel like they are part of the mural like we are by creating it, it’s nice to see how a part of you can be turned into art.
Nzinga: I hope that the children at Carter Street will see some positive representation of their cultures, and cultures different than theirs. It is important to teach them the importance of respecting diversity, and embracing their own cultures.
How does it feel to have your portrait, and your culture, represented on the wall?
Nzinga: To have my portrait and culture represented on the wall feels like I am representing more than just myself. I am now on “display” so to speak, to shine light on some of the diversity of the human family.In R-Centers, I often see Muslim children who try very hard to simply “fit in”, and only preserve their culture, religion, and even Arabic language to home. Rather than changing who we are to conform ourselves, I think it is beautiful that we are celebrating people of all backgrounds.
McKenzie: It’s a very interesting feeling to be captured on the wall. I’m hopeful that some of the kids come to recognise parts of their culture in my own, or simply take more pride in where they come from because it is not something that is meant to be hidden, but celebrated.
No: I thinks it’s really cool and awesome to have my portrait on the wall and it make me look famous because more people will know me around Rochester if they saw my portrait in the center. But at the same time it’s cool to have someone that’s Asian on a wall probably where barely any Asian would go. I just hope the murals would portray a positive outcome for the kids at the center.
Alex: It was really great to see the finished murals and also see my face in one of them with part of my culture like the coqui with the flag of my country and other details around. I really feel grateful and proud to see that mural with part of me in the physical and cultural aspect in the R-Center of Carter Street. It was a great experience to be part of all that work with Roc Paint Division and Vince Ballentine.