Youngsters' Murals Bring A Splash Of Color To The Projects

Communityart Fills Walls, Posters, T-shirts

August 12, 1991|By JoAnna Daemmrich | JoAnna Daemmrich,Staff writer

With his buddies cheering him on, 12-year-old Michael Johnson takes aim at the graffiti on the wall and splashes on more paint.

The scrawled shape of an arrow gradually fills out as he sprays with his air brush. Michael frowns and stands back a little to add the finishingtouches. Just one more dab of purple near the edge, he decides.

From the other side of a supply table, art instructor Duane Lutsko checks the work in progress on the colorful mural. "How's this shaping up?" he calls out to the eight boys.

"Man, it looks slick," answers Houston Flowers, 12.

"It's cool," another boy agrees.

Lutsko admires the PAC -- for Public Art Children's program -- written in bold blues and surrounded by swirls of lurid orange paint. Before the boys have a chance to bask in his praise, however, he pulls out a manual and gets them working on Donald Duck.

"I think the thing that really works here is the air gun," he says. "It's like spray painting; it's like graffiti, so the kids hook right in."

A tall, blond36-year-old with a diamond earring who goes by the nickname "Ace," Lutsko has a natural rapport with children. He has spent the past two years teaching children from Anne Arundel's poorer neighborhoods to share his love of art.

"All kids like to play with color," he says."Art reaches just about


His philosophy led the Maryland Hall for the Creative Arts in Annapolis to sponsor an outreach program for children in public housing projects and low-income neighborhoods.

Lutsko acquired grants from several art foundations to operate the program.

A grant from the county Commission on Culture and the Arts allowed Lutsko to expand the program to include younger children from Pumphrey, Meade Village and Freetown this summer. He was already teaching teen-agers from those neighborhoods to paint murals and make their own T-shirts.

The response has been enthusiastic, he says. Children who would miss activities at the Lloyd Keaser Community Center in Pumphrey have shown up punctually for every one of Lutsko's weekly classes.

Watching her grandson, 7-year-old Marvin Johnson, a slight boy in a blue athletic shirt, Minnie Brown smiled proudly.

"He's very enthused about coming," she says. "He always gets up early to get here."

Marvin was one of the Pumphrey children who painted a huge poster covered with the Earth and graffiti greetings of peace for an art show in New Zealand. Their 15-foot mural was featured at the multimedia show in Auckland called Burn Time, which displayed artworks with environmental messages.

The Pumphrey poster madethe cover of an Auckland newspaper.

"It said, 'Peace brothers andsisters,' and had, I forget, the world and all," Houston says.

Michael thinks anything with graffiti is better than drawing cartoons, little elves and "weird creatures."

Lutsko says he tries to provide enough variety to keep everyone happy. He alternates between colorful posters, T-shirts and cartoons. And he likes to have the children work as a group to complete a larger project that can be displayed.

"This is going to be put up here in the community center," he says,pointing to the half-finished poster with a cartoon of Donald Duck and the letters, PAC.

"With art, it not only provides some fun, butit also gives them a chance to participate in the community," he adds.

Lutsko hopes to get another grant to continue the program this fall and start a little Pumphrey enterprise.

He and the children want to spray paint T-shirts with their own cartoons and sell them in the community. It's the kind of project, Lutsko says, that makes "public art" truly public.

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