“Love is the Main Thing”: MVP program connects students to the community through the arts

February 24, 2023

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“Love is the main thing” is now painted on a retaining wall along Main Street, just down from the Mill Hill East Macon Arts Village, thanks to about 20 students on break from seven schools this week. The new mural is almost across the street from another retaining wall mural painted by other students in the camp this past fall. That one reads, “Be Positive. Be Love. Keep Macon Safe.”  

“It’s magical the amount of positivity these children are bringing to our community, simply by displaying their gifts,” says Randy Heart, the Teaching Artist who designed the murals. “Anyone can be the spark for something good…and each of these children are a spark for the world around them.”  

The murals – and the gaggle of student photographers documenting the process this week – are part of the Heart & Soul Workshop, hosted by Pulse: The Heartbeat of Macon. During the students’ three-day break, they took art and photography lessons, heard from successful artists and creative entrepreneurs, and worked on art and photography projects, like the murals.  

“I didn’t know what to expect, but it’s been pretty fun,” says 6th grade student Lauren Shelley as she paints one of the yellow letters. “[Painting] is easier on a canvas, but it’s more fun to do it outside.” 

“I’ve always liked photography, so this has been exciting. I’ve learned a lot about new camera settings and how to use different lighting,” says 6th grade student Lila Atteberry as she snaps more pictures of her fellow campers and checks to make sure they turned out like she wanted. “You really have to connect the photo to the story; I can’t just take a picture of a tree and attach it to the camp.” 

According to Dsto Moore, local photographer and Heart & Soul Teaching Artist, the students haven’t just been painting and taking photographs. They had to make other community improvements before the artistry could begin, pointing out they had to clear the weeds and brush off the wall, clean off the nearly unwalkable sidewalk, and pick up litter.  

“We’re showing [these students] how art can positively impact the community,” says Dsto Moore. “We’re showing positivity and having them create something tangible that connects Mill Hill to the larger neighborhood.” 

“It’s been great to see the neighborhood reaction. Neighbors have come out to thank them and give them drinks and snacks, and people have even slowed down as they drive by to thank them for their work,” says Tray Shelley, Heart & Soul Teaching Artist. 

 “It makes me feel like we’re appreciated for doing this,” adds Lauren of the attention the neighborhood has shown them. 

The murals were designed by Teaching Artist Randy Heart to be more than just a beautification project…to truly connect the community to the vision of the Macon Violence Prevention (MVP) program. They are meant to surround and infuse the neighborhood with encouragement as a reminder this is a positive, uplifting community with people that care for each other. Also, by having brightly colored murals can serve as a speed calming device as people slow down to look at them; it’s been noted by neighbors that people speed down that road much too often.  

“We’re trying to instill certain characteristics in these children that will help them be part of our community, to bring out their artistic,” says Heart. “I wanted to do something…to provide children something…that wasn’t being done elsewhere.” 

The Heart and Soul Workshop is funded with a $25,000 grant from the Macon Violence Prevention (MVP) program through the Community Foundation of Central Georgia (CFCG). It’s an alternate school break program providing mentorship for children ages 6 through 12 with interactive projects that teach them how to be a citizen-artist by master teaching artists.  

“We believe mentoring students in arts for civic impact teaches them that you have a bigger voice by picking up a paintbrush or a guitar than a gun,” said Project Manager Julia Morrison. “All our teaching artists are experts in their field and identify as teachers and fathers, providing direct success stories for our students to emulate.”  

“I’m so thankful all the right people came together to make this happen for so many children and to benefit our neighborhoods and artistic community,” adds Heart. “We talk to them about the importance of art, why it’s important to keep their community clean, and how much we love them for who they are and what they are capable of doing.” 

In previous camps, students have created a positive mural on a block of Main Street on a retaining wall that encompasses two blighted properties and cleared the block of trash and debris – this is a traffic calming measure and allows for better pedestrian access. Students “upcycled” 16 pairs of used shoes, learning about sneaker art and shoe restoration techniques, and donated them to Brookdale Resource Center.  

If your child missed this opportunity and would like to be part, the next chance will be during Spring Break, March 20 – 24, 2023. The Spring Break camp will feature a multidisciplinary arts installation using recycled objects. The program is free to Bibb County School District (BCSD) students. It costs $12 a day for those who are not BCSD students. Dropoff is 8:00 a.m. – 8:30 a.m. and pickup is 5:00 p.m. – 5:30 p.m.  

About the Macon Violence Prevention Program 

More than $800,000 was granted to 25 nonprofit and faith-based organizations to put in place programs and efforts to reduce violent crime; each goal they are trying to meet was made by the nearly 2,000 people through forums and surveys on what our neighborhoods need. Those outcomes are outlined in the MVP Strategic Plan, and the full list of organizations and programs can be found by clicking here. Organizations were selected through an application and review process led by the Community Foundation of Central Georgia.    

“The solution to violent crime in our community will be found in all of us working together on the same team,” explained Mayor Lester Miller. “The fact that more than 50 organizations came to the table with good ideas and applied for MVP grants shows that the people of our community are committed to this historic effort. If we continue to work together, we will create a safer, stronger community now and for future generations.”     

Macon Violence Prevention is an evidence-based, multifaceted program created to address public safety in Macon-Bibb County. Supported and funded by the consolidated government, MVP is a community-wide effort that brings together elected officials, community leaders, agencies, organizations, and departments.    

The MVP program operates under the guidance of the MVP Strategic Plan, which was created by community stakeholders and violent crime experts. It combines data and research with community feedback to implement proven solutions that reduce violent crime and strengthen the community over time.    

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