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Animal instincts

Art teacher seeks students
to take part in mural project

Hardesty-Gray to paint
Animal Shelter, Madison Dog Park

By Erin Lehman
Contributing Writer

(May 2008) – Art and animals go hand-in-hand, art teacher Stacy Hardesty-Gray demonstrates. This summer, Osgood, Ind., resident Hardesty-Gray will continue her mural program at the Jefferson County Animal Shelter and Madison Dog Park. It’s a project she began last year. She invites children of all ages to develop their art skills while sprucing up the community.
The animal shelter and dog park were instinctive places for Hardesty-Gray to play host to her fifth mural project.

Stacy Hardesty-Gray

Hardesty-Gray

“Kids are drawn to animals,” said Hardesty-Gray, 41. When she saw the bare Jefferson County Animal Shelter building, she knew it was “a place that needed something.”
Hardesty-Gray, who has been teaching at Jac-Cen-Del Elementary for 10 years, initiated her first painting project when she saw a long, blank restaurant wall four years ago. She gathered local kids together, and they painted a mural on the restaurant wall. Since then, she and different groups of local youth have continued painting. They’ve added color to a nursing home, an animal shelter and the fairgrounds.
The theme of the mural corresponds to the location. The group painted cows and sheep at the fairgrounds in 2007, and Hardesty-Gray plans to paint different breeds of dogs at the Dog Park this summer.
She continues the program because today’s kids don’t have very many creative outlets.
“There’s nothing for children to do artistically. It’s all sports,” she said.
Connie Brink, whose child has been involved with Hardesty-Gray’s program for three years, agrees. At Lydia Middleton Elementary School, her daughter has art classes for only half of the school year. Brink’s daughter, Sara, has 30 minutes of art class but just once per week during one semester.
Sara was interested in the mural program because she enjoys painting. Hardesty-Gray’s program has helped Sara develop her painting skills.
“I learned about different types of paint, shading, and stuff like that,” Sara, 11, said.
Hardesty-Gray charges a $35 fee for each youth participant. Brink said she has seen improvement since Sara’s first painting of a golden retriever puppy.
“She has gotten a lot better at both drawing and painting,” Brink, 43, said. “I hope she keeps it up.”
Hardesty-Gray is planning for this summer’s youth painters to paint dogs for the Madison Dog Park. Sara is unsure what she will paint for the Dog Park, but she is looking forward to the summer project.
The Dog Park opened in 2007 and has been “pretty popular so far,” according to Harold Lakeman, Madison Parks and Recreation Director. The park is separated into two parts to accommodate small and large dogs. Dog owners pay $12 total for a Dog Park pass and must have their pets vaccinations up to date in order to use the park at their leisure.
In 2007, more than 100 registered Dog Park members used the facility. Such a positive response in the park’s first year reaches toward Lakeman’s goal of letting dogs run in a contained space rather than around the city of Madison.
Lakeman is looking forward to the art that Hardesty-Gray and her painters will add to the Madison’s first Dog Park.
“Their work was fabulous from what I saw,” Lakeman said. “The animals looked like the real thing. They’ll make a great addition to the park.”
Hardesty-Gray shows no signs of stopping her murals. Her goal is to put more art out in the open. Unlike a museum, murals present art to the public on their own turf. Community members can view the youth painting projects from their cars.
“Galleries can seem stuffy. These murals aren’t confined to a building,” she said. “They reach a wider audience.”
Hardesty-Gray intends for more murals to pop up, transforming dull walls to lively buildings. She keeps her eyes open for spots that could be new murals.
“I’m always looking for bare spots in the community, walls that scream to have something painted on them,” she said.

• Stacy Hardesty-Gray is available for private and group lessons. Youth ages eight through high school are invited to her mural program. For more information, contact her at shardestygray@yahoo.com or (812) 839-3585.

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