Look out on your left, or on your right, as you peddle or stroll along The Rio Grande Trail Artway for a new installation which will likely incite an emotionally positive response within you.
Students of Carbondale Middle School (CMS) are using their voices to bring a message to the community. A concept all are familiar with but that can be elusive in society. Kindness is their message and art is their means of expression.
In September 2018, CMS Art Teacher Christy Sanzaro was present for a meeting at The Launchpad attended by other local educators and artists. There Sanzaro met Sarah Uhl, a local artist who coils art and social science together by inviting the community to be involved in her creative process. The two collaborated and the art wheels were set in motion.
During the meeting last fall Uhl spoke about her “Random Acts of Kindness” art project which had been on display at Bonfire Coffee. That project included forty different “Kindness Signs” with illustrations and written suggested actions for people to use to show kindness to one another. The signs included phrases such as, “hug someone that’s sad” or “talk to the next blind person you see.” Adjacent to the “Kindness Signs” stood a “community suggestion board” which patrons filled with their own proposed ways in which to spread kindness.
Sanzaro invited Uhl into the classroom to share her social-artistic vision with the students. Uhl introduced the students to another of her kindness projects, the “Kindness Jetpacks.” A “Kindness Jetpack” is a series of decorated cards each equipped with an encouraging remark. The idea is that people use the jetpacks to “inject” positivity into someone’s day by conspicuously placing a card from the jetpack for them to discover. Sanzaro incorporated the jetpack practice in her classroom and pretty soon students were finding (and placing) kindness notes in each others’ notebooks, desks and so forth. In Sanzaro’s words it, “created this sort of electricity of positivity.”
The “Kindness Billboards” have the same intention. Working with Amy Kimberly, Executive Director of Carbondale Arts, Uhl secured the annually alloted Ro Mead Community Art Grant to fund the project. Each of the billboards are made from reclaimed doors from the Habitat Restore. There are seven uniquely designed billboards each with uplifting phrases painted on both sides. That means at any given time fourteen blasts of kindness will have the chance to brighten someone’s day.
From the beginning it was important to Sanzaro and Uhl that this be an opportunity for the students to express their voice. Uhl explained the intention was “to give them an early insight into what it is to have a voice as an artist — I think that is a superpower.” During the ongoings of the project there was a suggestion box which students would fill with phrases they wanted to see on the billboards. Once the backgrounds of the billboards were complete the students voted for fourteen of the phrases that they collectively liked best — democracy in action.
Sanzaro noted that “the project unfolded in an organic way.” Besides, life is not always hunkydory but luckily those rougher instances provide a learning opportunity for students. Sanzaro mentioned there was one such occasion toward the middle of the project. Seizing the chance Sanzaro had the students participate in a “responsive circle” where students could express themselves freely. The result, a unified class came up with a solution through artistic action. According to Sanzaro this was really an “important piece…” because it “created more awareness about this project’s actual point which is kindness.”
CMS highlights five components they term “habits of a scholar.” Those five include, executive skills, compassion, enthusiasm, perseverance and teamwork. The students tapped into each of these traits to bring this project to fruition.
Unions between youth, community and art is part of what makes Carbondale special. As Sanzaro puts it, “there is just a little magic how these things come together — these partnerships with teachers, artists and students.” Kimberly and Sanzaro are working on another project together: The Youth Art Park. The Youth Art Park will be installed along the Rio Grande Artway this coming spring. The Kindness Billboards will connect The Youth Art Park and The Latino Folk Art Garden.
There will be a celebration on the Rio Grande Artway beginning at 2:30 p.m. on Oct. 6 with the dedication of the Archway behind Dos Gringos. People can then meander down the Artway, riddled with artistic design, and behind Town Hall will see the new Kindness Billboard installation. Kimberly is excited for people to, “catch all these different ways art can be created by and for the community.”
The billboard themes range from embracing one’s own identity to cultural solidarity and cohesion. The messages can be simple yet each is more powerful than a jetpack that can circle the sun.