As the Dream summer program comes to a close, our mentors, supervisors and Dreamers take with them an experience and representation of the magic that was created with the completion of a mural project, installed in the Willowbrook Community Center of Bennington, VT.
The Dream Program, a non-profit organization and held in various locations throughout the Vermont, Boston and Philadelphia area, traces its origins to 1998 when Kathryn Ross, an AmeriCorps member, was charged with the duty of providing after-school programming for close to 100 children living at the Templeton Court Apartments, a Section 8 housing development.
Over the years it has served as a space of great learning, adventure, support, creation and opportunity for kids and young adults from their local communities.
This year, The Dream Program of Bennington VT, works together to create a meaningful piece of art.
The conversation started back in 2021 with the Southern Vermont Arts Center (SVAC) when Hillary Chase, an active AmeriCorps member at the time, began planning a mural project for one of the community centers. Hillary left her term early to take a job as a music teacher at an elementary school where a lot of the DREAMers attend. Hillary has stayed involved with DREAM as a Summer Program Manager and Asst. Youth Services Manager and continues to support the kids and college mentors throughout the year. Jenn Moore, came on board as Dream’s Youth Service Manager in 2021 and Hillary then passed off Erin Kauffman's contact info (SVAC's Education Manager) to continue the conversation and implementation of the idea.
Erin brought on Ken Rush (Ken Rush (kenrushart.com) as our leading artist to carry out our vision. Ken Rush balances his time between Brooklyn and Vermont. He has had numerous solo exhibitions since 1985, and Ken’s paintings have been reviewed in ArtnewsArtnews, Vermont Life magazine, as well as many regional publications. His work is in the permanent public collections of the 9/11 Memorial and Museum, the Brooklyn Historical Society, The New York State Museum (Albany), The Bennington Museum, the The SUArt (Syracuse University) Galleries, Hudson County Community College, Bergen Community College, and the New York City Health and Hospitals Corporation. Ken has experience teaching teens, and we felt this would be a great project for our older DREAMers to be a part of.
Upon our initial arrival, Ken met us with donuts and a noticeable enthusiasm, sparking energy and openness with the Dreamers. The work had begun. What followed was an energy of healing and joy. The kids were transformed through an environment of positivity, possibility and freedom through visual art.
Ken worked so beautifully to cultivate the magic of possibility and empowerment in the kids. He was expansive and inspired and the kids played off of this feeling too. There were of course the transitions and the patience before getting into a flow but he allowed for this as well. The Dream mentors were balanced in this approach, which made the kids feel comfortable to do something new and different. The Dreamers created almost life sized prints of themselves, adding color, shapes and designs that speak to who they are as individuals. They got to learn about their home, their environment, as a special place, while Ken shared with them certain points of history like The Blue Benn, The Dairy Bar, The High School and The Monument and added them in an artistic way on the mural.
“I loved the productive and creative spirit of each child and each mentor. I had set things up focused around large self portraits, in which we projected the photograph of a child, and they traced and then interpreted in colors. And from there, lots of freehand and imaginative interpretive work transpired. We even had a day in Willowbrook, where we worked on art outside observing the home tours. I think that the model of having a committed community art center working with Dream, is a really rewarding one. I know as a visual artist, and as a teacher, it was rewarding for me.” - Ken Rush
We are so grateful as a community to have this opportunity to have worked with SVAC. We now have an amazing mural that will continue to grow throughout our time at Dream and beyond!