Eagle Eyes is a neighborhood organization that started in October 2006 following the murder of Manchester Police Officer Michael Briggs. Cheryl Mitchell founded Eagle Eyes because she wanted to show that the local communities could take a stand with strength, determination and goodness.
“She decided to work with children,” said Anthony Williams, an artist, Americorps VISTA (Volunteers in Service to America) member and artistic director for Eagle Eyes. “She didn’t want them to end up like either person: the one who died or the one who pulled the trigger.”
Graffiti covered many neighborhoods but the members of Eagle Eyes, who Williams described as few but devoted, could see talent in the work of these graffiti taggers.
“We could see these kids had art inside of them,” Williams said. “We just needed to show them the rules.”
Along with many local artists, the organization got kids together on different occasions and showed them how to clean graffiti and then, with the permission of property owners and the city, the artists taught the youngsters how to paint murals or create a more artistic form of graffiti on garages.
“They would look at their work and say, ‘Wow, I did that!’” Williams said. “Sometimes it can be like therapy. You get a brush in their hands and they’re happy. It’s about a kid with talent who might end up in Valley Street and I want to tell him, ‘You’re an individual. No one has your DNA. Do something positive.’”
Williams said if a kid works on a mural, he is likely to bring his friends back and show off his work. As a result, of the 30-plus murals painted in the last three years, only three or four have been tagged, Williams said.
Williams said they’ve had 25 kids working on one large mural. Kids come to the program in various ways; sometimes neighbors volunteer local kids who have put graffiti where it isn’t wanted.
The approved murals have popped up throughout the city; there’s one at Hunt Memorial Pool on Maple Street in Manchester, for example. And while there is no statistical evidence to prove acts of graffiti are declining, Williams said several police officers have encouraged the group and said they’re making a difference.
Eagle Eyes’ newest innovation is a panel project. Twelve 4-foot-by-4-foot double-sided (paintings on both sides) panels have been painted by local artists and youngsters and will be put on display on a rotating every-other-month basis in local businesses and restaurants for the next two years.
Artist Kathy Dow Tangney said she got involved with Eagle Eyes because she wanted to help kids do something positive.
“Some of these kids are caught up in their anger,” Tangney said. “They need to redirect their energy because they don’t know where to put it. Art is the perfect place.”
It is the place 17-year-old Janeva Jackson goes whenever she is sad or mad or simply wants to draw.
“It is one of my favorite things to do and I find it relaxing and a stress release,” Jackson said.
Jackson met Williams through her uncle and has painted one of the murals for the new panel project. She said her grandmother inspired her to draw when she was five years old. But she wouldn’t force art on anyone.
“Let kids do whatever it is they enjoy,” Jackson said. “It depends on the person. Art just happens to be my passion.”
Jackson enjoys painting African frogs but Tangney looked a bit closer to home for inspiration.
“I lived in a townhouse in what was formerly female mill workers’ housing on Merrimack Street,” Tangney said. “I researched the history and found that I was living in the living space of a seamstress. I too was a trained seamstress and felt kindred spirits there. ... I spent hours each week walking around the mill area feeling a need to paint them.”
Tangey will share her mural, as will all the artists, at a reception on Monday, May 17, from 5 to 7 p.m. at the MCAM studio on Commercial Street.
Where: MCAM studio, 540 Commercial St. in Manchester, 622-3023, www.mcam.org
When: Monday, May 17, from 5 to 7 p.m.
Tickets: free admission