Despite state mandates that seek to reduce arts education to rote questions on a test, arts educators like Marcy Bernstein know that artistic expression helps teens develop many important skills that carry over into the rest of their lives. And working together on projects out in the community helps develop an enhanced capacity for empathy, collaboration and confidence. So when she and partner David Wilkes launched Roost Studios & Art Gallery on Main Street in New Paltz earlier this year, it was a natural fit for Bernstein to encourage the start of a youth group within the adult artist cooperative. “Before we even hung our first show, I had the kids here getting inspired and doing sketching and planning for their first project,” she says.
It started with two teens — one of them her son — who brought in their friends to complete the core group that currently includes New Paltz High School students Juliette Crisafi, James Hyland, Sam Liebman, Danielle Takacs and Dayna Thomas. The five will enter tenth grade in the fall. Working together since March as the Roost Youth Group (RYG), they’ve already completed several community-minded art projects. New members are welcome; there’s no cost to join the group.
The members of RYG come up with their own ideas for their projects, planning them and carrying out the work with adult supervision. But that support shouldn’t be mistaken for being “helped,” says Bernstein, because it’s important to the artistic process for the students to take responsibility for carrying out their projects. “And that kind of autonomy, being able to trust their own voices and ideas while being given some tools to carry them out, is incredibly empowering for young people and can have a big impact on their development.”
The group’s goal is to create works of art that deal with personal and social issues through visual art. Their first project was a three-panel mural embodying the spirit of empowerment that served as the backdrop on stage at SUNY New Paltz’s Studley Theatre during the Candle and the Heart benefit concert in April for the Maya Gold Foundation.
Their second project was a mural with a message of environmental stewardship, created on site at the New Paltz Recycling and ReUse Center with support from Laura Petit, director of the recycling center, and artist/community advocate Kookil Tsumagari, who constructed the support for the piece. Painted on plywood, it was mounted in place on the side of the ReUse Center, but done so in a way that makes it possible to move it in the future should that be necessary.
The mural depicts two possibilities for New Paltz’s future. The imagery reads left to right, suggesting darker prospects when natural resources are abused but a bright future with ecologically sound practices. The transitional point depicts figures crossing the new Carmine Liberta Bridge yet to be constructed. The style used to paint the figures pays homage to artist Keith Haring, whose murals on the streets of New York City in the 1980s highlighted social issues. The teens watched a documentary about the artist and discussed the issues in their own community before deciding on the theme and style of the mural they created.
Carmine Liberta’s widow, Angie, in her 90s, still lives in New Paltz. Bernstein says that when she was shown the mural in progress by ReUse Center director Laura Petit, Mrs. Liberta was visibly moved by the students’ inclusion of the landmark dedicated to her late husband. When the mural is officially unveiled to the public at an ice cream social at the ReUse Center on Saturday, August 27, she will be an invited guest along with town dignitaries. The mural, after all, will live on as the first visual depiction of the town’s newest landmark. Visitors can meet the student artists and there will also be a surface provided along with paints and brushes for an on-the-spot community mural.
The Haring documentary that inspired the students will be shown at Roost Studios on Tuesday, August 23 at 8 p.m. All are welcome to watch the 30-minute documentary, “Drawing the Line: The Life and Art of Keith Haring.”
Over the summer, RYG is collaborating with the Maya Gold Foundation again, this time to create sculptures using materials from the recycling center. They were also contacted by members of the Gardiner Day Committee, who invited the group to paint a temporary mural at the upcoming Gardiner Day celebration in late summer. And Chuck Bordino, director of Parks and Rec for the town, would like the RYG to create a mural inside the New Paltz Community Center.
Roost Studios has seen a lot of growth in its first year, going from an idea in January to now being an official 501 (c) (3). This fall they’ll collaborate with SUNY New Paltz and Dorsky Museum curator Daniel Belasco for his museum studies class, in which the students will curate a show at Roost Studios. “It’s a really exciting partnership for us,” says Bernstein, “and it’s wonderful for the students to get off campus and get real-life experience.” Roost Studios also awarded their first student scholarship of $500 to graduating New Paltz High School student Shoshana Smith this past June.
Roost Studios is located at 69 Main Street in New Paltz. More information is available by calling (845) 255-5532 or visit www.roostcoop.org or “Roost Studios and Art Gallery” on Facebook.