By JOSÉ IGNACIO CASTAÑEDA PEREZ, The News Journal
WILMINGTON, Del. (AP) — Billowing barbeque smoke drifted lazily toward the four young artists who gently caressed the weathered maroon boards with their paint brushes, brightening the windows and door of a vacant property in Wilmington’s historic East Side.
The artists’ arms were decorated with dried paint swirls of blues, yellows and greens as the sun shone at Taylor and North Pine streets on the morning of April 16. Two of the artists, both 6 years old, hurriedly whisked their brushes in a bucket of cloudy water before they swabbed fresh dollops of paint.
Local artist K.O. Simms watched as original paintings of a school bus and smiling faces began to populate the once-empty boards during the second East Side Community Pride Artist Day.
Simms, who can often be found painting outside of his East Side residence, was inspired to hold the event by the multitude of neighborhood children who would ask if they could also paint as they walked by him on the way to school.
The event gave residents and children an opportunity to decorate their own community, carving out a corner of their neighborhood by filling it with their own design. For Simms, the occasion is a way to creatively inspire the kids while bringing some light and color back to the community he calls home.
“It’s our own,” said Alexis Wilson, mother of four of the young artists and East Side resident.
“It makes us feel like we’re somebody, we’re not just living in somebody else’s world — for a minute, it’s like it’s ours.”
The event comes during a time of renewed revitalization efforts for the East Side, including Wilmington Mayor Mike Purzycki’s multimillion-dollar investment in the community.
Purzycki announced plans in January for an anticipated $50 million residential redevelopment and stabilization program that will aim to resolve some of the most pressing issues facing the city, including housing and gun violence.
The program, funded through the American Rescue Plan, will begin its first phase of neighborhood redevelopment in the East Side community, an endeavor totaling about $30 million.
The investment also comes alongside efforts to revitalize the nearby Bancroft School and increase homeownership in the community with newly built Habitat for Humanity homes along Bennett Street, as well as the reopening of the community’s sole sit-down restaurant, Jerry Deen’s.
As the boards continued to be painted, more and more residents walked up, grabbed a brush and got to work. The children continued painting their renditions of school buses and of the Bancroft School, which sat about a block away from their art.
Two of Wilson’s kids attend Bancroft and she said the event was a great way for them to see their paintings every day on the way to school, inspiring them to continue in the arts, she said.
“The kids are building memories with their parents and they get a chance to walk by later on throughout the summer and talk about, ‘I painted this’ and ‘I painted that,’” Simms said.
Alphonso Lancaster, an East Side resident, described the event as a source of positive inspiration for the neighborhood children to cultivate their artistic talents in a setting that isn’t often available to them.
“Some of these kids have the talent, but there’s no venue for them that carries that around here,” Lancaster said. “It’s these events that when you get older you realize, this is what I like to do.”
Lancaster hoped the event signified to other residents that there are people who care about the community, spurring others to put more investment and time into the neighborhood.
“There’s people in here that care, and then they’ll start participating more and they’ll start taking an interest in it,” he said.
The event, which was supported by a couple of Wilmington City Council members and the Wilmington Housing Authority, has garnered a great amount of neighborhood support since it began, Simms said.
It is largely through the support of the community that the event continues, Simms added.
As Simms spoke, a young boy ran over to the artist with his arms outstretched, showcasing his paint-covered hands.
“It’s on my fingers,” the boy exclaimed.
“That’s good, I’ve got some on mine,” Simms responded as he showed the boy his hands, adorned with yellow paint.
“Does it come off,” the boy asked.
“Yes, it comes off real easy,” Simms replied.
Upon hearing the response, the boy ran back and picked up his brush and paints, continuing his masterpiece on the sunlit corner of Taylor and North Pine streets.
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