Cathren Housley began her work with community art projects and installations in 2007 when she worked with the RISD Museum and community members to create a wall mosaic depicting the Great Serpent Mound found in Adams County, Ohio. It was at this moment that Housley saw how community art could inspire children.
“When I saw the effect that being real artists had on kids and how it inspired them, I just kept wanting to do more of these,” said Housley.
For the last 15 years, Housley has worked on a number of community art projects, one of the biggest being the Great American Flag project which was done in conjunction with Ginny Fox and the Peace Flag Project in 2015. A series of three large tapestries of the American Flag were made out of small square pieces called “peace flags,” including squares contributed by then-RI Governor Gina Raimondo and Senator Sheldon Whitehouse.
Now, Housley has moved on to her next big project, the Wall of Hope at the Smith Hill Library in PVD. The Wall of Hope started in early July and is a planned art installation with the central concept that the content will be contributed by community members.
“This was my next opportunity to really do a project where I was bringing the entire community together and the idea behind it is that everyone who’s putting something on this piece of art is putting their thoughts for hope,” said Housley
Housley’s main inspiration and drive to create this collaborative piece was that she wanted to give the youth of lower-class neighborhoods in PVD the chance to express themselves and to discover the powerful outlet that art can be. She, along with Alan Gunther, the director of the Smith Hill Library, held workshops to help youth create their pieces for the wall. She was very successful with the participants and was even shocked by how well some of them were doing.
“They all had this idea that art was just a picture you hung on your wall… to say that they had no materials at home is putting it mildly… they didn’t have anything,” said Housley. “When we started giving them all this stuff to work with… it was just astonishing! You could see that the future was opening up for them in a new way and that’s why I’m inspired to keep doing it.”
The Wall of Hope will be a permanent installation located in the main entrance room of the Smith Hill Library with the idea that the messages behind each piece will inspire and bring a sense of optimism to those who view it.
“The idea is to have a magnetic centerpiece when it’s done so that everyone who comes and stands in front of it feels a sense of hope, is affected by the hope and the positive energy that everybody who worked on it contributed,” explained Housley. “Every kid who’s painting has got something special that they are bringing, and we’re going to feature all of it and give them credit in the final art.”
After the Wall of Hope, Housley hopes to expand the project and have one added to more community libraries in PVD. She also hopes (haha) to get back into collaborating with the Peace Flag Project and working on projects that represent women and people of color in the US.
“I feel like our connectivity to each other, our sense of community, is one of our biggest prospects for power, for people in ordinary life to have power,” said Housley. “When you get hundreds of people together, and you can combine their energy together in a cohesive form for power, for positive energy, wow! You can do a lot with that.”