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An Unfinished Story

The Civic Standard started thinking last year about the kids who skateboard through town, often almost running into cars, and regularly being hollered at by rightfully frightened drivers. We realized that these (mostly) boys were the same kids who seemed to fill many of the adults in the community with nervousness, suspicion, or downright distrust.

Instead of asking “how could we keep them out of trouble?”, we asked instead “what kind of event would they actually attend?” We asked them if they wanted to get together to talk about getting a skatepark built in town. We imagined that might truly interest them, and would at least get them into the building so we could learn more about what they wanted and how they might be engaged.

Out of that initial meeting, a new organization was born. It started as a committee, but soon became the Hardwick Skatepark Collective, a group of young men ages 13-19, learning what a collective means, while also taking the very first steps in what is surely an enormous and daunting task: how to get a skatepark built in our town.

Since that first meeting, we have held a fundraising dinner, hosted a slideshow about skatepark culture, designed and sold sweatshirts to begin a fund for our eventual park, and organized meetings with local leaders and skatepark designers. We have met on a weekly basis– every Tuesday since the fall.

Last month, one of the members of the Collective approached our Town Manager with an official request to graffiti under the bridge on the north end of town. There were some offensive things written there, and the graffiti would be a colorful way to cover over the worst of it. Opie, our Town Manager, saw an opportunity in this question– to grant permission for something that this kid could easily do independently, but for which he had consciously chosen to ask. So Opie said yes, with a few caveats: the graffiti must be contained to only under the bridge, and no vulgar images allowed.

Then Opie called the Civic, knowing that we were regularly in touch with the same kids who were interested in graffiti. He asked if we would buy the spray paint and help to guide the whole activity. So, after a Skatepark Collective meeting, we went down to Aubuchon’s and purchased a selection of colors of spray paint, and then brought the boys back to the bridge. We watched for a while– while they covered the writing with a bright cartoon frog, some designs, and their own “tags”. They used up just about all the paint we bought.

But then, in the days and weeks that followed, more graffiti appeared– by the river below the diner, and across from Riteway Sports. Some of it was obscene, not all of it was beautiful. It’s not totally clear who is responsible for each and every one of those marks, but that’s not the most important thing to figure out, at least not for us. This story, of how to engage and support all the kids in our community, of how to answer YES when we almost always have to say no, is not a finished story. We are still in it. 

The next part of the story started last week when a neighbor posted on Facebook about how ugly and upsetting she finds the graffiti around town to be– which then was followed by 45 comments from other community members, arguing in support of the kids or defending graffiti as art or agreeing that it was ugly or just discussing the subjectivity of aesthetics in general. 

At our last Collective meeting, we talked about this, and about what we might be able to do about it. We decided to explore finding a professional graffiti or mural artist who might be able to help us cover over the worst of it– ideally someone who might be able to work with the kids, in both the design and the painting process.

We will put out the word again when we have more clarity about how and when such a project might take place. And, of course, our Collective meetings are open to all if you have ideas or would like to know these kids better. We meet every Tuesday at 3:30pm at the Civic.


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