BY CHERYL SLAVIN
For many kids, summer vacation means camp, travel and generally kicking back after a long school year. But for seven North Rockland students, this past summer meant working four to six hours a day, three to four days a week in sometimes blistering hot conditions to produce a series of wall murals that will permanently brighten up the once dreary RHO game room.
The brainchild of Recreation Director Karenanne Nigro, the concept for the art project grew out of her initial contact with several of the students and their teacher, North Rockland Art Coordinator Karen Bauman, who had painted holiday windows at Kirkbride Hall and the RHO building. Impressed with the students’ talent and dedication, she approached Bauman this past spring with the idea to install colorful student murals all around the dingy room located just across the hall from the board room. Bauman enthusiastically embraced the idea and recruited Amanda Bueno and Nina DeJesus, both just ninth graders at the time, to flesh out the project.
Bauman decided that a Keith Haring inspired theme would work perfectly within the space, but left the rest of the planning up to her student artists. Amanda and Nina brought in five other friends to participate: Lauren O’Shea, Kaitlyn Berlanga, Dylan Zappier, Michele Aricho, all ninth graders at the time, and Justin Hall, who was in eighth grade. The students then worked together to plan and coordinate the themes, colors and subjects of the 16 panels. Each artist did his or her own Haring-style sketches based on the overall concept, “Let the Fun Begin.” As the work progressed, the students conferred with each other to work out challenges and resolve differences in order to produce a smooth, coherent final product. A 17th panel celebrates each individual artist with a special “personal statement” self-portrait.
The artists are as diverse as the activities shown in the panels. Dylan Zappier, now a 10th grader, stated that he likes to draw, but he also loves math and science. The project was fun, he says, and “it’s cool that the work will be there for a while.” Kaitlyn Berlanga, also in 10th grade, takes art classes in school and participates in the art honor society, but she also plays soccer and other sports. The best thing about doing the project, she says, was the time she got to spend with the other kids.
The project started at the end of April and lasted until the end of August. Despite some severely hot and humid days, the kids never missed a day and always showed up on time, Bauman relates. Their enthusiasm and energy never flagged.
Their hard work and dedication has paid off to the benefit of the entire community. A room that once was drab and institutional now radiates life and energy. Future users of the space will be able to enjoy the artwork for years to come. Nigro already has plans for fundraisers so that she can replace the floor and complete the rehab. Bauman is also planning for future art projects including doing holiday windows again and installing a permanent rotating gallery for student artwork in the RHO hallway.
Earlier this month Nigro and the Recreation Department threw a barbecue to honor and thank the student volunteers. Many members of the community, including the superintendent and assistant superintendent of the school district, came out to celebrate. The Town of Stony Point also presented certificates of appreciation underscoring the value of community service to all of the students and their teacher at its September 23 meeting.