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Recreation Outreach Centre youth unveil ‘community’ mural

The ROC’s youth project community mural unveiled.

Story and photos by Sharon Harrison
Recreation Outreach Centre (ROC) youth have unveiled a large-scale mural project showing how they view living in Prince Edward County.

The mural, painted on the large stucco wall in the Market Lane parking lot, behind the Paul Street Circle K convenience store, is an art collaboration by the ROC Youth Centre and Prince Edward County artist Tomas Del Balso.

Bay of Quinte MPP Todd Smith, Prince Edward County Mayor Steve Ferguson, and ROC executive director Darlene Thompson each shared a few words at the recent informal unveiling.

Also present to mark the occasion of the grand reveal were County councillors Bill Roberts and Phil St-Jean, HPEDSC director of education Sean Monteith, ROC staff, board members, volunteers and supporters, and the artist himself. The owner of Circle K, Usama Labib, who offered the wall to host the mural, was at the ceremony.

The community mural project was made possible with part of a three-year $216,500 grow grant received in 2017 from the Ontario Trillium Foundation, said Ben Wadsworth, ROC youth inclusion program manager.

“The ROC worked with artist Tomas Del Balso and youth participated in workshops, and continued through the pandemic through online discussions and art submissions,” Wadsworth said.

“The final product reveals how the youth view living in Prince Edward County and they hope you enjoy the mural.”

Artist Tomas Del Balso and MPP Todd Smith, Bay of Quinte

“We are seeing very colourful results,” said MPP Smith. “This is beautiful, great work.”

Smith recalled being present for the 2017 grand opening of the ROC – or the ‘ROC Clubhouse’ as he referred to it – and remembered an exciting evening.

“It was absolutely jammed in there. People were nose-to-nose -something that would never happen in today’s environment, but there really was an energy in that clubhouse that night.”

Darlene Thompson, ROC executive director

Darlene Thompson, ROC executive director said over the past three years the Trillium grant has also provided vital support for programs for youth facing barriers in the community, including volunteer opportunities and assuming leadership roles.

“The priority outcome for this grant was to have more youth meaningfully engaged in our community,” Thompson said. “The wall behind me is one example of how the ROC is positively impacting and engaging youth in our community.”

She noted the youth being mentored by a local artist entrepreneur, helped them gain artistic skills, self-expression and self-confidence.

Other opportunities the grant has provided over the years were through participating in the community gardens program, creation of the Youth Advisory Committee and County Care Kits, among them.

“These activities over the past three years show amazing growth in ROC programs, an increase in youth membership and retention numbers, and the growth in our community partnerships.”

She congratulated Del Balso and thanked him for his hard work, dedication, and artistic skills for the past six months, and noted support from his parents who drove from Brampton for the occasion.

The Cherry Valley resident said working directly with the youth allowed him to listen to what they had to say, through a series of workshops.

“We would give out pieces of paper and we sat at a big table and just drew – essentially whatever they wanted to draw,” said Del Balso. “I just kept re-suggesting and asking them if they had any scenes in their mind, any places. Lots of cool ideas came about.”

He says he has a huge binder full of the youths’ drawings.

“When we arrived at this final image, it was derived from our ideas that we had already been through, like the farms, the animals, fishing, the water, the harbour, the history of the ROC and the Regent. We basically created a list of ideas and tried to just work with them to see what they came up with.”

He explained once the drawings were compiled, the design was based on the images the youth had shared where they were mixed up to form the composition, a process that he says, “just came together”.

“It was a fun experience for me. The youth are really talented, so you don’t really have to ask them and they show up voluntarily for this project, so they are already interested in it and for me that’s brilliant, and that’s what I want.”

While the ideas for the mural came from the youth, Del Balso was the principal artist for the mural, with some youth contributing some painting efforts.

“Youth know what they want to do and they just do it. For instance, the barn quilt one of the 16-year-olds came up with while I was painting. I gave them the stencils and paints and let them chose the colours and whatever they wanted and they did that. Another youth came up with the idea of the barn door, and we have pumpkins, and a four leaf clover.”

He says he taught the youth how to stencil, but says it was really just drawing a shape on cardboard, cutting it out and spray painting it on.

“I’m super happy to throw my style up on that wall and I’ve always had imagination in my art work,” Del Balso says. “That’s really nice to represent that part of me where I can be a little bit more free. I like surrealism and layering and I still got to do things I’m interested in artistically.”

He says he felt the mural came together very well and is symbolic of things you can do in the County.

“I didn’t want to work with a perspective in a real sense, but I wanted to work in a perspective in a dream-like sense.”

He adds the wall is stucco which proved to be his biggest challenge as a painter and required patching before he could begin, as it contained holes and a big crack.

PEC Mayor Steve Ferguson

Prince Edward County Mayor Steve Ferguson said the striking work of art will go a long way toward beautifying that area of downtown Picton.

“This mural will give visitors – many of whom park in the Market Lane lot – a great first impression of our community,” Ferguson said.

He noted how the municipality is trying to connect in more meaningful ways with young people, including outreach programs with schools with the goal of building youth engagement with the municipality.

“This is wonderful and the municipality is very supportive of the ROC,” said Ferguson. “You have done a fantastic job reflecting the many aspects of our community and what it’s like living in Prince Edward County.”

Ferguson said the municipality is very supportive of the arts, and not just the academics.

“Our youth are the future of our community, and art is one way youth can express themselves, their community, their goals, their dreams and their frustrations. I am big believer that the arts make us who we are.”

MPP Smith added it is about making a difference in kids’ lives and that is what the ROC is all about.

“It is all about communities coming together and partnering, and organizations like our local school board,” said Smith. “It’s that kind of leadership as well in the local community partnering with grass roots individuals that really do make things happen.”

“We are giving kids an opportunity to get some volunteers, counselling and supports that they need, but most importantly have a friendly, welcoming, inclusive environment where everybody can come together and feel like one big family.”

This fall, the ROC is celebrating its 20th year of operations, a milestone occasion that will be promoted virtually, due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

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