The hard work of talented artist, Nichole Blackburn of Big Sky Countries, was revealed in Connecticut’s Newtown Youth Academy on Oct. 18. The hope was to bring a bright and positive message into the community after Sandy Hook Elementary’s tragedy last December. And it sure did! Nichole’s uplifting mural covers over 100 feet of what was once ‘sterile’ white wall space in NYA’s nonprofit sports and fitness center. Located in the heart of Newtown, NYA now offers a more colorful and welcoming facility for children of all ages.
The mural itself represents the strength and unity that is so prevalent in Newtown and NYA was the perfect setting because it has been a place of healing for so many. As residents and parents are beyond grateful for Nichole’s generous donation, NYA Communications Manager, Alisa Farley has proclaimed Nichole an honorary member and thanked her for “choosing love”.
Now back in California, we were lucky enough to hear from the artist herself and get the scoop on her experience!
Stencil Ideas: Why did you choose those specific words for your design?
Nichole: I proposed words that I thought were fun and uplifting, but ultimately I let the Staff at the Newtown Youth Academy choose all the words for the mural design. From what I understand, the NYA wanted to focus on positive words that not only reflected the values of the Newtown Youth Academy, but also the spirit of the community. One thing I learned while staying in Newtown was how active everyone is, especially in sports! Soccer, lacrosse, Zumba...They were doing it all! Lots of walking, too. The weather was spectacular while I was there. All the leaves were changing colors, so I think everyone was really taking advantage by being outside. From seniors to children, everyone in Newtown is active, which I found it so inspiring!
Stencil Ideas: Can you briefly tell us a little bit about your experience in Newtown?
Nichole: Words can't describe how special the experience in Newtown was for me. Before I came out, Alisa Farley, who headed the mural project with Terry Sagedy (both of the NYA) told me "Coming out to Newtown will change your life." This was true in so many ways, ways I did not even know or expect. If I had to say what truly stood out to me the most is the sense of Love and Community Newtown is. While I was a guest there and people would see me paint, I was asked out to lunches, invited to families' homes for dinner, invited to join on hikes and boat rides by the locals who truly wanted to say "thank you" in their own special way. It warms me heart to know people are so special. When I got on the plane to fly home to California after almost a month, I had tears running down my face because I already missed everyone so very much. I have tears in my eyes now remembering how much love Newtown gave me. They are my second family!
Stencil Ideas: Do you have a particular moment that stands out in your memory?
Nichole: The truth is, every moment in Newtown I cherished in my Heart. I was an outsider who was welcomed with open arms into a community that is evolving through so much right now. I had the privilege to stay with a local family, the Farley's, who became like my second family. I bonded with their children - we cooked together, laughed together and we still text each other, even after I left. It's so special! Alisa Farley, the mother, has become like a sister to me. She drove me around while I painted, even helping me hang Modellos into 16 hour days. What a girl!
Stencil Ideas: How did you like working with the Modello Designs custom stencils?
Nichole: Are you kidding, I love Modellos...They made the project a huge success! Everyone couldn't stop commenting on how perfect the lettering and logo looked on the murals. People would ask if I hand-painted the words, and I would laugh and say "Are you kidding? You can only get it that perfect when you are using Modellos. Especially when you are on a short amount of time!" Even more so, I had a group of high school art students come in to help paint. I showed them how to use the Modellos and they had the hang of it in no time. I also taught the Staff at the NYA how to use Modellos. Everyone loved using them throughout the facility! Modellos really set you up for success and this project showed that ANYONE can use them easily!
Stencil Ideas: Do you have any new projects on the horizon?
Nichole: Ahhh, it is now time to take care of many of my private Clients in Los Angeles! On the donation side, I am currently working with another nonprofit, the well-known Boys and Girls Club, to help them bring a college bound art program to their high school teens. I am so excited to assist on this! When I was in high school I was fortunate enough to have my art teacher take notice of me and help me apply to art school with a portfolio. Many teens do not have access to this in high school, especially low-income schools, as budget cuts are taking art programs away from schools. My hope is that through this program I am helping set up with the Boys and Girls Club, teens can have the same opportunity I had to pursue their dreams in the Arts!
We definitely feel the love too! We are so happy to have been able to contribute to this wonderful event. Thanks again, Nichole!