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  • Writer's pictureMonmouth Arts

Signs of Hope Students Look Inward

By Margaret Goddard

Back in October, 30 students at the Red Bank Boys & Girls Club set out on a visual arts journey as part of the Monmouth Arts Signs of Hope Program. With the goal of a public display of their artwork in mind, the students began a series of lessons with teaching artists Molly Gaston Johnson and Stacey Pritchard. The final project: design and create street signs with their own positive messages. Each week the Club set aside time in its schedule for the program, which included lessons along the way that would teach design principles and art history.

Monmouth Arts started Signs of Hope in the spring of 2018 at the Boys & Girls Club of Asbury Park with generous support from the Mary Owen Borden Foundation. The program’s initial success encouraged Monmouth Arts to seek funding from the Monmouth County Board of Chosen Freeholders and the Provident Bank Foundation to expand Signs of Hope to the Boys & Girls Club of Red Bank.

Thanks to these funders, Monmouth Arts was able to begin a collaborative art project for the Red Bank Club’s summer camp in July 2019 and then transition to a ten-week after-school program through the fall and winter. One of the goals of the Signs of Hope program is to build relationships with the students over time, using the weekly sessions for both art activities and sharing ideas and experiences.

Signs of Hope focuses on the messages and images that youth would like to see in their neighborhoods. A student might transform a sign that reads “Stop” into a more positive “Do Your Best.” But to think about their external environment, students have to look inward first and ask themselves who they are and what they feel. Teaching artists work with a particularly introspective curriculum to make Signs of Hope a success.

The curriculum starts with activities to practice simple design elements and principles. Students learn about typography and what makes words easy to read and eye-catching. They then think about signs they’ve seen in their community and why they look the way they do. Using inspiration from artists like Faith Ringgold, Romare Bearden, Kehinde Whiley, and Amy Sherald, students come up with their own messages and designs. A highlight of the Red Bank sessions was the “gallery talks” at the end of each hour, where students gathered around a table with their drawing or collage from the day and offered commentary and words of encouragement to each other.

As part of the program, students also made self portraits using color, line, and scale to demonstrate their personality or emotions. Staff drew their silhouettes. Then students filled the silhouettes with drawings of their feelings, thoughts, and favorite qualities. The project, titled “What’s in Your Head?” was designed by Tim Kelly, founder of Art is Good For You and the Puzzle Project, which is another component of Signs of Hope.

The younger students at the Club, those between the ages of 5 and 7, enjoyed a visit from area children’s book author and illustrator Mike Ciccotello, who read his book “Twins” and engaged the group in a series of drawing activities.

Club staff and teaching artists alike note that Signs of Hope creates a positive and collaborative spirit among students. Kids who claim, “I don’t like art” or “I can’t draw,” or who sit on the sidelines end up loving the Signs of Hope activities. One student was particularly quiet in the beginning, but with some individual attention he became increasingly enthusiastic about making art. By the end of the program, he made a striking sign with the message, “Don’t Give Up.”

Signs of Hope closed with a celebration where the students’ artwork lined the walls to be admired, and students, staff, and families voted on their favorite sign designs. The winning signs will be reprinted for outdoor display and placed outside in community areas in Red Bank; the Club will display more signs both inside and outside its building where they can be enjoyed every day.

To see more from the Signs of Hope program, check out the video on the Monmouth Arts website, made by photographer and videographer Bart Lentini.

We would like to thank The Provident Bank Foundation and the Monmouth County Board of Chosen Freeholders, without whom Signs of Hope could not have been possible. Thank you to the Red Bank Boys & Girls Club team for helping us each week. Special thanks to this session’s teaching artists, Molly Johnson and Stacey Pritchard.

For more information about Signs of Hope, please email Connie Isbell, Monmouth Arts’ Membership & Community Engagement Director, at

Signs of Hope in the making

Final Signs

Photos by Bart Lentini.

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