For five weeks this summer, a team of Boston teens worked on improvement projects at the Strand Theatre in Dorchester, repainting interior walls and creating an exterior mural with the help of local artist Alvin Colón.
The project was undertaken as part of the City of Boston’s Department of Youth Engagement & Employment SuccessLink program, which employs Boston’s youth at community-based organizations with the goal of providing those between the ages of 15-24 with opportunities to build soft skills and key competencies to prepare for future career opportunities and academic success – while also helping organizations fulfill their missions and reach organizational goals.
“I am so proud of the work that is being done through the SuccessLink program,” said Mayor Martin Walsh. “To see the work of the program being linked to a theater that has been such an iconic building and cultural center in Uphams Corner is wonderful. These murals will improve the look of the Strand and enhance the neighborhood.”
The Strand, a cultural landmark built in 1918, has undergone several renovations in the past century. Adding another pop of color outside the theater was just one of the ways the youth team contributed.
“We didn’t have a clear plan for the kids,” explained property manager Juan Morales. “We just had to get them into the Strand and get them busy.”
Initially, Morales had the three teens, Isabel Slater, 16, Avaughn Hardin, 15, and Mackenzie Brown, 15, painting dressing rooms within the theater. They were assisted by supervisor Grete Langrind.
Once the interior painting was complete, Morales decided that they should then focus on improvements to the outside. With the help of Strand Theatre manager Melody Green, they decided to create murals on the fire exit doors that are on multiple sides of the building.
Morales contacted Alvin Colón and asked if he was available for the project. “I made myself available for it,” said Colón. “It was spontaneous. With this project, I wanted to take a pause and go back to what I love.”
Alvin “Acoma” Colón of Boston has been an artist for over 22 years, and a curator for 6 years. He designed murals for the doors, in some cases, drawing inspiration from an African deity and tapping into Sumerian designs.
The project turned out to be an educational experience for the teens, with Colón letting them practice on back doors before finishing the final product in front. “We had them start with these doors so they could get better,” Colón explained. “They improved their skills and by the end, they were consistent with their color flow and shapes. They’ve learned how to mix colors, how to create steady lines, and how to have good posture and be calm.”
During the mural process, supervisor Langrind, who has a painting degree from the Rhode Island School of Design, stayed on to assist and proved integral to the finishing of their final mural.
In the last week of the program, one of the teens was not available, so the team brought in a new intern, Nick Martin, 15, to help.
The final mural, which incorporates Sumerian designs, features a variety of colors, all mixed by the young folks. “We added this pattern and all of these colors to say to the public that Boston is very colorful,” explained Colón. “These colors represent the people in Boston and the motions are supposed to be playful dancing, to tie into the Strand.”
For at least one of the students, the project is more than just a job. Mackenzie Brown has developed an interest in art through her participation in the program and has bought some art supplies to use at home. She is proud of the work she accomplished at the Strand. “I’m bringing my family and my cousins to see it next week,” she said.