Frederick Douglass R-Center

Last week was another landmark week for the Roc Paint team: we completed our second on-site mural, at the Frederick Douglass R-Center on South Ave. We were thrilled to welcome Sarah Rutherford, who led this program last year, back as a guest artist.  Not only have we all missed working with her, but Sarah’s thoughtfulness in terms of mural conceptualization and attention to detail made her the perfect lead for this particularly meaningful project.

This mural focuses on Frederick Douglass, the center’s namesake, who once lived right on the site where the center now stands.  An interesting fact about Douglass: along with his incredible legacy in the civil rights movement, he was also the most photographed man of the 19th Century.  He understood the importance of crafting his own image- he was ahead of his time in this regard.   Today, photography has become even more accessible with cell phones and social media and continues to serve us as we craft our public images. This mural covers both sides of the hallway, with the lenses of two cameras facing each other and symbolically tying together the rich history of this site with the modern day lives of the children who now frequent it.   Our hope is that this mural will provide a teaching tool for the children of the center and School 12 in learning more about the incredible local history that helped to shape their city and our country.




Youth artist Nzinga was especially excited to have the chance to paint a portrait of Frederick Douglass, who is one of her families heroes. Read on for her reflections on this mural.


I liked seeing the piece come together, and the reactions of the staff and the children who attended the center. They were overall very pleased with how the walls turned out. It was fun to work with Sarah again. It felt like when I first entered the program last year. The ladders were definitely a challenge because I typically don’t like getting on ladders to reach up on walls.

Before we started painting, we went to the center to talk with the children about what we were going to paint on the walls and get some of their ideas. They were open about the idea and liked the photoshopped sketch that we put together. We also had them draw something that they use today that is a modern version of the past, as well as things that are important to them. The kids were very brilliant and funny. One of the children, Elijah, actually drew something a little unrelated, but it was still very good. It was a picture of a skyline that was melting like a candle. It was so creative, that Marina drew it on a canvas for the kids to paint when we went back to the Center.

To me, the overall concept of the mural means a past and present parallel. It pays homage to the history of Frederick Douglass’ farm, which was at the very site of the R Center. Frederick Douglass is very revered in my household, especially by my father. We have read The Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass and had many discussions about him so I felt compelled to paint him the best I could.


It was interesting to have so many kids around while we were working. The children were very inquisitive and bold in their comments, in that they had a lot of comments about the mural, and even how we had paint on some of our clothes. I hope that they will like the mural, and that they will want to know more about Frederick Douglass and the historical connection between him and the South Ave. R-Center.

— Nzinga Muhammad


Part of the mural includes two frames that face each other. In the frame on the wall featuring the past, we painted the house the that Mr. Douglass lived in on this site, and in its mirroring frame on the “present-day” wall, we painted the center as it looks today. The kids at the center were excited to see the recognizable image of their center being painted on the wall. We were surprised at the number of kids we met who weren’t aware of that piece of their center’s history- that Douglass lived right where they now play- so by painting the correlation on the wall, we hope it will bring greater awareness to this amazing historical connection!


More images of the process……



Next week: Our final mural of the year, at the Flint Street R-Center. (Outside!) Stay tuned.


Ryan R-Center, part 2

This week marked a milestone for Roc Paint Division: the completion of our first on-site mural of 2017! Completed in only about two weeks, the mural at the Thomas P. Ryan R-Center also has the distinction of being the first on-site mural that our entire team has worked on at once. Led by Justin and guest artist Ryan Smith, this project was a great confidence booster for our team of youth artists. Check it out from start to finish:




Youth artist Calvin Wilson went to Ryan early on during our initial meeting session with the kids there, to share our plans and get their ideas. Read on for his recap of the experience, from day one through to seeing the last strokes of paint on the wall.


The mural to me is amazing. I love how the colors come together in their abstract kind of way, making the eagle stand out. What I really love most about the mural is that even though we are following our same theme of growth as last year, rather than having the same butterflies and flowers we were able to do something different, but that still carries the same meaning.

I think Ryan and Justin’s collaboration works out great along with the help of the student artist. The style that they used is what really made the painting look so nice, and in the end it was able to come together as if one artist did it.

Honestly working at the R-Center was a lot more fun than working at the lodge because I feel like it brought us more together as a team. Working on the mural together at the same time forced us to be in each others’ way and I think that was an opening door for communication for us as a whole and we were really able to bond. It was also a fun opportunity to work with the children to see the next generation of artists and how they would interact with what we were trying to do.

When we first walked into the R-Center I immediately was impressed with the location of where the mural was going to be only because I knew it would bring excitement to such a dull little room. I expected for there to be a lot more kids when we attended the Ryan Center, however, the kids that we did meet seemed very interested in what we’d planned on doing to their location which meant a lot to us.


In the end I hope the kids love looking at the mural as much as we did making it and I hope that it inspires the young up coming artist that we were able to meet to want to do something similar to what we did or bigger. I want the kids to find joy coming back to the R-Center, more than they already do, because we as a team were able to make it that much more exciting.

Seeing the finishing project at the Ryan Center was AMAZING! I loved that it was our first project that we were able to finish together as a group and seeing how excited the kids were really warmed my heart. I love how we were able to incorporate our stencils  to make it more like home for the youth artist and in every way did it make the mural that much better.



Ephraim spent much of our last day at Ryan working to hang up the butterflies painted by the kids. Flying alongside our eagle, they add a nice sense of spirit to the mural and tie the energy and enthusiasm of the center together perfectly. ryancenterlastday-1ryancenterlastday-11ryancenterlastday-15ryancenterlastday-6

We loved painting here and will miss the great folks at this center, including the queen of the kitchen, Miss Marion, and her two sweet grandkids, pictured below with our team, who hung out with us a lot while we worked (and who also made sure our youth artists always had something to eat at mealtime!)


Our team doesn’t miss a beat- this week, we are working away on our next on-site mural at the Douglass (South Ave) R-Center. Stop by and check it out!

Painting at the Ryan Center, Part 1

The last few weeks have been especially exciting: our youth artists have started their first on-site mural at the Thomas P. Ryan R-Center! We’ve been working hard at the lodge for a full 10 weeks, getting ready for the experience of painting a big wall out in the community, and its been so great to finally see our youth artists fully engaged in painting all together.

For this project, we’ve been joined by guest artist Ryan Smith, or A Visual Bliss.  A longtime friend of Justin’s, Ryan travelled all the way from Brooklyn to work with us. Ryan and Justin have collaborated on murals many times over the years and their combined vision has made this into a piece that is dynamic, colorful, and radiant, perfectly suited for the energetic vibe of the Ryan Center’s game room. Especially notably, it has also provided the first opportunity of the whole program for all of our youth artists to work together on one cohesive project, which has been a real joy to see.


The Ryan Center is connected to John James Audubon School #33, whose motto is “Soaring to success” and whose mascot is the eagle. This was music to Justin’s ears, as he has a long history of and a genuine love for painting birds. When we first met with the kids at this center to get their ideas for what we should include in this mural, the idea of an eagle came up pretty quickly.




Read on for a recap on the project at Ryan, with Ryan (…!) so far from youth artist Ephraim, who has particularly enjoyed the experience of painting this wall so far:


I really enjoyed painting the last few days at the Ryan R-center. it was nice to have space to work, move, and think, which is more of the environment that I’m used to. This was a huge change from working at the lodge, where it often feels congested and not really conducive to my creative process. I enjoyed doing this project because I’m used to doing bigger walls and even buildings, so this experience was nothing new to me. Returning to this style and color selection was refreshing being that the last time I painted a really big wall was in Brazil, almost a year ago.



 I think the mural looks great so far. I feel Roc Paint as a team has really stepped up to the challenge of our first on-site mural. The parts I enjoy the most are the details in the face of the eagle and the movements of the sharp lines in the piece. I hope that doing this project in the kids space will inspire them to become more expressive and also prompt the to seek out opportunities and outlets to express themselves.


ryancenter-35Before he left, Ryan helped Ephraim with some ideas for designs for his tag. 

 Meeting and getting to know Ryan has been pretty dope, he’s my favorite guest artist thus far (and probably ever). I really enjoyed the evolution of his style and his introduction of the people that he’s collab’d with and learned from over the years. He reminds me a lot of myself in his teaching style and personality, and I could relate to a lot of the things he’s done and his underground roots. All in all I give him a 10/10. What I like best about having guests in is their stories of how they came to be or got to the position they are in now.

— Ephraim Gebre


Ryan had to head back to the big city this week, but we still have one more day of finishing touches before this mural is officially completed! Next week we will have a final recap of the project.





As our youth artists have been working away on this mural, the children of the Ryan Center have had their own opportunity to get in on the fun. Lisa, our youth coordinator, has been working with them to paint their own cut out birds, which will be hung alongside our completed eagle next week. This gives the littler ones a chance to participate in the excitement of painting, and to see their own art hanging right alongside ours.