Althea Lynn King remembers painting her boots with nail polish as a kid growing up in Harrisburg. She was always DIYing, sketching and creating.
Now, she has her own son, whom she homeschools along with her nephew. King still loved art, but, with two little boys running around, time for her own interests often got pushed to the back burner.
“I definitely got lost in being a mom and forgot about me,” she said.
That began to change when King spotted a flyer—a call for artists for an upcoming painting project in Allison Hill. Local nonprofits Sprocket Mural Works and Tri County Community Action were seeking artists to leave their mark on a number of flower planters installed throughout Allison Hill.
King decided to apply, but admitted that she was doubtful she’d get chosen. Little did she know, a few weeks later, she’d be kneeling on Market Street, paintbrush in hand.
King painted what she knew was important to her and to her community—family.
“I wanted to bring the power of mom into it,” she said of her “mom squad” painting.
In both English and Spanish, the phrase “protect our kids, teach our kids,” is painted on the planter.
“For my son to be able to walk by and say ‘that’s something my mom did,’ it’s huge,” she said.
The planter-painting project was meant to add to the beauty of the Allison Hill neighborhood, explained Sprocket co-founder Meg Caruso. But the effects reached further. For King, and many of the other artists, the experience was one of empowerment and pride in their roots.
Stroke of Hope
What began to happen among artists and in the community is exactly what Tri County had hoped for when coming up with the project.
“This is encouraging people to take pride in their community,” said Danielle Krebs, communications manager at Tri County. “It also gave artists the opportunity to be creative and give back to their community.”
Tri County supplied the canvas—large cement planters—along with flowers, and Sprocket helped connect with artists and provided paint. The project kicked off Sprocket’s 2021 Harrisburg Mural Festival, which includes many other projects throughout the summer.
Krebs also saw this as a way to address an aspect of Tri County’s Heart of the Hill Community Action Plan, which they developed with residents’ input. As outlined in the plan, which was updated in 2020, community members expressed a desire for public art and beautification projects in the neighborhood.
For this project, Sprocket looked specifically for artists from the neighborhood and successfully gathered a group of 20 artists, ranging in age and experience.
One of the younger artists is 20-year-old Kiara Dawson, a Harrisburg High School alum.
Dawson has always loved art, she said. She helped design the cougar head painting inside Harrisburg’s Rowland Intermediate School, designed school T-shirts and painted a mural at the high school for her senior project.
But when her former art teacher, Rachel Aslan, encouraged her to apply for the planter project, she was nervous. She doesn’t like being in the spotlight, she said.
However, Aslan successfully got Dawson, as well as two of her students from this past year, to apply. All three were selected.
“We try to talk to our kids about the importance of public art, and this was the perfect opportunity for them to get involved in their community,” Aslan said.
Dawson rose to the occasion, creating a piece that celebrates individuality and showcases her own journey towards overcoming depression and accepting herself.
“My mural gives people hope that things will get better,” she said.
Artist Tristan Bond is known locally for his art, with murals on the sides of HMAC and Ciervos Pizza. His painting on the planter on Market Street is much smaller than some of his other work, but carries a lot of significance.
Bond has memories of that spot where his artwork now sits. He remembers being a kid, walking with his mom to the fried chicken shop and the five-and-dime store just off the sidewalk. At the bus stop nearby, he used to take a crayon to his coloring book while they waited.
“It’s like it’s come full circle,” he said.
Bond’s mother passed away in February, but sitting on that corner, he could still picture himself up on her shoulders, walking through the neighborhood.
“Being able to touch on the memory of her—it means a lot,” he said.
His painting shows robotic hands planting and watering flowers. He hoped to capture the importance of organic growth alongside continued technological advancement. On one side of the planter, Bond painted “The Hill,” what many of the neighbors call Allison Hill, he said.
“It brings a sense of pride to the community,” he said. “There’s art and beauty in this community. It’s rough around the edges, but there’s so much beauty in it.”
To learn more about Sprocket Mural Works, visit www.sprocketmuralworks.com.
For more information on Tri County Community Action, visit www.cactricounty.org.
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