Thursday, April 8, 2010


By Tynan Sinks

(MONMOUTH) In many towns across America, young people are hard pressed to find artistic outlets. Many young men and women take to the streets and make the walls of their city the canvas for their work. Monmouth is no different. It is not hard to find street art on many of the town’s buildings. Most of these forms of self expression are illegal and looked down upon by local residents. Many of the young artists tend to get arrested and punished for their actions.

When the back alley wall of The Buchanan Center for the Arts was being defaced, however, Director Susan Twomey decided to take a different approach to solve the problem. After seeing a piece of graffiti that was particularly high on the wall, she was worried not only for her building, but for the safety of the people who were tagging it. She left a note asking the artist to come in and talk with her about a more positive outlet for their artwork.

After meeting with three young men ages sixteen to nineteen, she invited them to come up with a mural design for the back wall of the Buchanan Center, and they agreed. “I could tell that they were good guys from the start,” said Twomey, “because if they weren’t, they would have never come in to talk to me.” Only a few days later, one of the young men came in with an initial mural design. Twomey took it to the board of directors, who were at first a bit skeptical about her idea, but soon felt a sense of pride in the concept of giving the artists an outlet for their work. After a few minor changes to the design, they unanimously approved the idea.

The idea was not embraced so quickly by the community though. At first, Twomey met with quite a bit of adversity because she was working so closely with these young people who many viewed as hoodlums. “Don’t you want them arrested?” One local man asked her, “That’s the only way they’re going to learn.” But Susan believed there were other ways. That’s not to say she wasn’t apprehensive though, “At first, I wanted anonymity,” She explained. She did not want to become too close with any of them in case one of them got into trouble with the law. Despite that, she and the boys soon built a bond of trust.

Susan was not the only one who began to trust them. As the project went on, locals started to see them frequently working hard on the mural and began to view them more as artists than gang members. Many people began to drop off donations for more paints and supplies to help the mural grow. It began to feel like the community was standing behind these young artists and their work. Most of the young people had rough home lives, and began to view the Buchanan Center as something of a safe haven for not only their work, but also themselves, and started hanging around the Center in their free time. “I began to refer to them as my lost boys,” Twomey said. They started hanging around the Buchanan Center for the Arts started to become something of a second home for many of the young people involved in the project, spending their free time there, doing homework, and working on art projects of their own.

Today, the first phase of the mural has been completed and it has evolved into an ongoing project between the Buchanan Center, The Lost Boys, and the community. As spring warms into summer, you can be sure to see some of Monmouth’s most talented local young artists hard at work on this remarkable mural that is bringing a new awareness and understanding to the community.

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