Whether a folded poem found in the pockets of unsold clothes or a portrait on what was before an empty brick wall, kids are leaving art in unexpected places downtown.
“It’s kind of like a surprise,” said Molly Kelly, 9. “If they walk around the corner and they see something cool, that will make them smile and put them in a good mood.”
This is the fourth year for the downtown Lawrence activity, part of a spring break camp for elementary students called “Guerilla Art” held by the Lawrence Arts Center, 940 New Hampshire St. As part of the camp, the students learn about guerrilla art — temporary art that is displayed in public places — and make some of their own. Another defining element is that the art has a message, said Neal Barbour, director of youth education for the center.
“It is public art that has a social message behind it,” Barbour explained. “And a lot of the time it’s a radical message or a message of the disenfranchised, but what we’re focusing on is a message that empowers people or a positive social message, or something that the students think is important.”
The kids do a variety of art projects throughout the week, including popup theater, secret poetry they place in clothing at stores downtown and small booklets or “zines” they file among the stacks at the library. But perhaps the most visible of the projects are the posters. The posters are portraits of the students with messages, which they pasted to walls at 701 and 900 Massachusetts Street on Wednesday.
The posters say things such as “Don’t be invisible,” “Love your enemy” and “Wear what you want.” Each message is overlaid on a portrait of the student in disguise — wearing hats or glasses or fake mustaches — since guerrilla artists are supposed to be anonymous.
The students also make up identities for themselves as artists, which they use to sign their work. Layla Snipes, 7, poses in her poster with a white mask, signed with the name “City Girl,” which she picked because she was born in Chicago. Layla said what she liked about the projects was that she got to choose what she wrote or painted.
“It’s fun because you get to do what you want in art,” she said. “You don’t have to do what somebody tells you. Nobody can tell you to ‘do this, do that.’”
Barbour said that in addition to getting to do art and be outside over spring break, he thinks the students learn they are part of the Lawrence community.
“Over 60 percent of our time is spent making or placing art outside in the community,” he said. “So it’s really starting to identify themselves as citizens or their artwork as having an impact on the community, or being able to affect the community positively.”
In Molly’s poster, she wears a batman mask under the message “Protect the world.” Though she said what she wants most is for the posters to put people in a good mood, she also wants her message to make them think.
“I want them to think about how they can make the world better,” she said.