Local children from the Saugerties Boys and Girls Club painted themselves into corners this week — literally.
Preparing a white backdrop on seven four foot-by-eight foot planks, the kids, about 25 in all, are working together this week to create a mural which will in October be installed on the side of the M&T Bank on Main Street.
When finished, it will depict a multitude of images the children consider to be iconic of life in Saugerties: the Lighthouse, horses, garlic, sculptures and more. This will be the second mural in the country to grace the side of an M&T Bank; its counterpart is located on one the bank’s Bronx branches.
Ulster County-based artists Kelli Bickman and Andrew Kaminski are not strangers to directing large groups of tiny hands. Bickman collaborated with local youths to create what she calls “grassroots community engaged art” for the first time in 2009 in Peekskill, and has since overseen the painting of the Woodstock Peace Mural and a slew of similar initiatives.
“This is how I give back all that I’ve learned throughout my years as an artist,” said Bickman. “Giving the youth an outlet for creative expression is a part of my life path — the children are the future!”
Kaminski first directed group mural projects in the Bronx after earning a master’s in fine arts at City College; the two met in 2010 and collaborated the next year with children at the Salvation Army Youth Center in Peekskill.
“Everybody is their own critical thinker, and everyone has their own lens that needs to be valued in an external way. Art is a great way to do that, to externalize their internal perspective,” said Kaminski. “If [kids] don’t learn young that their voice matters, they won’t feel that way when they’re older. If we can condition kids to believe that their opinion matters, it will condition the way they think for the rest of their lives.”
Along with Erin Fritz, the pair directed the painting of a sprawling tree last year, which now adorns the side of the Oddfellows Temple in Saugerties, across the street from the Reis parking lot. Bickman sought out Brooklyn-based artist Paul Deo as a third artistic director for this latest project; currently leading at-risk teens from Guatemala and Honduras in art therapy sessions, he has painted with youths throughout the country.
“I want to teach kids that, if [they’re] good at something, don’t wait — that just makes you lethargic. Start it now,” said Deo. He was recently an artist-in-residence at both the University of Pennsylvania and at Harvard University. “With YouTube University and all the information out there, kids should be doing it now. It’s all on you. The amount of effort that you put towards your vision and who you are is everything. There’s no other mystery.”
Over 20 children between the ages of 7 and 15 are slated to paint the mural at the Oddfellows Temple ballroom over the course of a week; the prospective image — which also includes Willie’s Love Knot, sailboats, a miniature M&T Bank, the insignia of the Boys and Girls Club, the red bridge and the intersection of Main and Market street — is an amalgamation of images sourced from the children when asked to draw something indicative of Saugerties. After the boards were painted white, a projector was used to assist the children and artists in “blue lining” the mural-to-be into a grid and then trace aspects of the sample image. Also included in the two hour sessions are free drawing time, games and activities meant to boost their confidence like mock interviews.
“They’ll walk by [the mural] all the time and hopefully grow up with it. When they graduate, when they come back from their first year of college, it’ll still be there,” said club director AnnChris Warren of the project. “Kids have moments of ‘I can’t.’ hopefully when they’re older, they can look back on this and say ‘I took part in it and it’s still up.’”
M&T will bankroll the project and even coordinate the mural’s installation, which Bickman said is usually left up to her team. The branch’s assistant vice president, Ethan Mass, has set a tentative unveiling date of Oct. 4.
“At M&T bank, we believe in taking an active role in the communities we serve,” said Mass. “We have a vested interest in the Saugerties community, with our small business lending and mortgage lending. … It’s a pleasure to try to give back to the community, and this is one avenue where we would attempt to give back to the local kids in Saugerties.”
The mural will be on display in the Oddfellows Temple ballroom between 6 p.m. and 8 p.m. on First Friday, Aug. 3.