Thursday, May 29, 2014

A Wall Without Boundaries

On November 26th, 2006, a woman who was living in an apartment above The Atomic Mary Digital Store, which was located along the Main Street of Stroudsburg, PA, reported the smell of smoke to the local Fire Department. They arrived at the scene but found no indication of a fire. They returned several hours later in response to a full blown fire that devastated not only The Atomic Mary Digital Store but the DaVinci Café, The Main St. Jukebox, and several other businesses along with a number of inhabited apartments leaving their residents homeless. The intensity of the fire damaged several other neighboring businesses and apartments in the 600 block section of the town’s Main Street Area including the Aardvark Sports Shop, the Keller Williams Realty offices, and George R. Stoeckel’s jewelry shop. Many of these businesses either found the funds to repair the damages, moved to new locations, or ceased to exist.

At the time, the fire was the third major one to occur in Stroudsburg, PA in less than the two previous years and was determined to be caused by an Arsonist. To the best of this writer’s knowledge, the perpetrator (s) of these destructive acts have not been found as of the date of this writing. The area where the fire took place eight years ago had since been cleared of debris leaving a desolate hole in the cityscape that still exists. There are rumors that proposals of creating a community garden or constructing apartments for low income individuals and families on the site had been presented to the local governing bodies. However, it is also rumored these proposals were summarily rejected by these bodies at record breaking speeds. Regardless of the validity of these rumors, there are presently no known plans to rebuild anything substantial on the site in the near future.

In spite of this municipal standstill, members of Stroudsburg’s creative community who were led by Shane Izykowski and the committee chairs (Drew Von Dred Ozkenel and Keyaira Lynn Von Dred) of The Sherman Theater’s Living Room in Stroudsburg, PA sought to mitigate the visual effects of the local eye sore by constructing a seventy-five foot wall across the area. The wall consists of a mural filled with interpretive images of buildings which represented the town’s business district reflecting not only its past and present appearance but that of its future as well. A multitude of artists expressed their desire to become a part of “Project Street Art: Part 1- A Mural Wall” by donating their time and talents to the endeavor. Local businesses also became involved with the project through their donations of the material needed to create the structure and by sponsoring individual panels.

On Saturday May 24th, all the artists who were selected and the materials for the project came together at the unsightly site to make a beautiful moment happen. Brushes filled with paint and love touched the wooden panels while passerbys stopped in their curiosities and soon became enamored with the spectacle that was taking place before them. The colors that filled the walls soon spilled out onto the streets and into each onlooker’s imagination as the clouds rolled by dispelling any threats made by meteorological reports of rain dominating the day. Yet, a downpour did occur during the day which was one of love and support as exemplified by the supportive comments shared throughout the day and by the local bakery known as Kitchen Chemistry who supplied the artists with some delicious cakes to munch upon while they painted.

Although the art filled day began at 11am, I was unable to arrive at the site until shortly after 3pm. I have seen images posted on Facebook presenting preparatory drawings the artists’  created prior to the event’s commencement along with photographs which documented the day as it was occurring, but none of this prepared me for the profound sensation of wonder that struck me as I walked down the sidewalk leading me closer to the wall. I was immediately enchanted by the movement of the artists whose brushstrokes were busily filling in nearly completed areas with additional details and colors. The light stepping music provided by The Juggernaut String Band consisting of Pete Taney, Johnny Peppercraft, Carolyn Burbage, and Chris Centrella enhanced the celebratory atmosphere of the day as each panel rendered an abstract interpretation of a local spot located on or near Main Street that was close to the artist’s heart.

These depictions included eateries such as Sweet Creams Café who offers a variety of foods especially ice cream and Café Duet which is a newly established coffeehouse. Local galleries such as SOHO in The Burg, The Andrei Art Gallery,, and The Sherman Theater’s Living Room were represented as were places where artists and other denizens of the town who seek spots where they can hang out. These locations included The Gamers Edge Comics and Games and The Happy Pipe Hookah Lounge There were also a number of businesses that were touched by the 2006 fire that found their way upon the panels but the most poignant one was that depicting The Atomic Mary Digital Store where the devastating fire began. It was good to see it given a phoenix like quality by an artist’s loving hand.

In my conversations with some of the artists as well with those associated with the project, I found the spectacle to be a revealing one as the varied creative approaches of the artists employed in their endeavors were shared with me. Some artists prepared all the essential elements of their compositions prior to the event with a certain degree of minuteness of detail while others only predetermined a basic direction they were to explore and allowed the spontaneity of their muses to freely guide their hand. Regardless of the individual artist’s approach, the overall aesthetic result of the day’s endeavors proved to be a truly remarkable one.

The artists who shared their talent in the project were Andrea Robbins-Rimberg, Andrei Protsouk, Anna Kasupski, Ashley Fontones, Dennis Protsouk, Drew Von Dred Ozkenel, Eric Bakke, Fran O’ Hagan, Jennifer Amazon, Jody Singer, Josue Guardia, Joy Taney, Kathleen Lockwood, Kayla O’Connor, Keyaira Lynn Von Dred, Maia Rossiello, Nova Chan, Peter Ambush, RenDi Young, Shane Izykowski, Sonia Leticia, Stephen Washington, Susan Molina Washington, and Tim Nobel. The businesses who supported the project (which included providing donations of material) included 84 Lumber, American Ribbon Outlet, Cramer’s Home Building Centers, DA Realty, LLC and Shanti House, LLC, Home Depot, Lowes, Miller’s Paint and Wallpaper Store, Minuteman Press of Stroudsburg, Sherwin-Williams, Shoprite of Stroudsburg, PA, and Wal-Mart There were more artists and business who were involved in the project that could not be named in this article due to their sheer number but they should, never the less, be recognized. They and their friends are welcomed to make their names and contributions be known through the comment section of this posting.

The painting and the wonderful conversations the activity inspired came to a conclusion at the scheduled time of 5pm as Shane Izyowski wrote upon a place near the structure “A Wonderful Moment Happened Here.” The artists were in the process of cleaning their brushes and removing the protective plastic from the sidewalk when the rain that had be predicted began to fall mightily from the sky. Many marveled how the inclement weather refrained from touching the earth with its moistness until the final moments of the event occurred. It was during this time did I move across the street and into The Main Street Jukebox (where it relocated since the 2006 fire) until much of the rain subsided. It was only a few minutes later did I determine the downpour was sufficiently diminished to venture out utilizing the numerous overhangs that lined the town’s sidewalks as I traveled to The Sherman Theater’s Living Room where the after party to celebrate the day and to honor those who made it possible was to take place.

It was a joyously quiet affair as artists and their admirers shared in conversations while munching on the pizza provided by Shane and sipping the drinks sold as the venue’s bar. Hula Hoops were also available for the young and young at heart to partake of. One Hula Hooper in particular that caught everyone’s attention was a very young girl who had never attempted the feat before. She kept on hooping for 10 to 15 minutes until she decided to stop. During my experience of watching her, I speculated how she can do such a marvelous thing because no one had ever told her she couldn’t. It was then that I wondered how many things I think I can’t do because someone told me I couldn’t. As I reflected on the day and all that was accomplished by the wonderful artists who lent their outstanding talents to such a monumental endeavor while other became resigned to the prospect the eight year old eye sore would remain so in perpetuity, I became inspired to realize there are fewer things in life I can’t do than I thought.

The wonders found in a community filled with love and art filled the day. Images and colors made their transforming presence known throughout the 600 block section of Stroudsburg as their soul enhancing properties built their boundless walls around the hearts of those who experienced the mural’s manifestation. Such walls do not exist to keep things in or out of our lives but serve to encircle us with reminders of a hope for us to gaze upon whenever our dreams seem further than they are. Perhaps the many who will walk by the structure will be inspired to ask themselves as they wonder upon its magnificence and realize their dreams are as close as their hearts to boundless question of “What can’t I do?” as they walk toward the selves that dwell beyond their walls. You’ll find more photographs taken during the installation and the after party in the Special Events 2014 Gallery at

Project Street Art: Part 1 - A Mural Wall is the first of a series of endeavors designed to enhance the aesthetic qualities of Stroudsburg, PA by adorning the streets of the town with the talents embodied in the members of its creative community. Throughout the day, there were concerns expressed that some members of the town’s population may harbor a desire to vandalize the Mural with spray paint. Shortly after this portion of the overall project was completed, Anti-Graffiti Coating and sealer for their entire wall was purchased and donated by Andrea Robbins-Rimberg. Future endeavors relating to Project Street Art are yet to be announced.

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