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Local artists take their skills south of the border
December 5, 2018

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Sisters Suzanne Bort Gray of Columbiana and Alice Rzonsa of Boardman recently returned from Akumal, Mexico, where they worked for a short time with local children to share their artistic skills while beautifying the town.

"This is the first year for this particular festival, although they hope to have it annually," Gray said. "There are many such events throughout the world. This one was organized in part by an expat British street artist, so he reached out to those in that field."

This was a first for both Gray and Rzonsa. Gray is better known locally for her work with ARTreach and the Five-Squared tile art show at the Boardman Davis Family YMCA. ARTreach is a separate entity from the YMCA, but uses the YMCA as a place to display art and host juried shows. ARTreach also has three teachers who provide free art classes at the Rescue Mission, Daybreak, and other like entities. As for the trip to Akumal, the YMCA pitched in to help the two lcal women out.

"The YMCA of Youngstown made a donation to cover the cost of supplies the organizers needed, such as brushes, rollers, scissors, etc.," she said. "We packed one whole suitcase with those supplies."

The Davis Family YMCA, whose ARTreach program has a reciprocal relationship with the Hekab Be Community Center in Akumal, was one of dozens of sponsors to provide art supplies, paints, brushes, transportation, food, and/or lodging for the artists.

Gray and Rzonsa were two of 80 artists that made the trip to Akumal for the event. The artists literally painted the town, and each artist was given their own specific area to cover. Gray said she was given the side of a bleacher.

"Artists submitted their ideas and size requirements," she said. "I asked for a small space, so the cancha bleacher side was perfect."

The eighty artists engaged local children in hands-on art events, and beautified the town with the colorful murals, creating a space of cultural appreciation and unity. Gray and Rzonsa painted "Mothers and Daughters" on the side of the cancha bleachers where a stylized pyramid was stenciled by New York City's Jonathan Villoch.

The finished art, created by some of the most famous street artists in the world, along with those emerging in the field, stretched across a bridge as far as the eye could see.

A festival that Gray said was organized by Jennifer Smith, Iran Beltran, Jake Klone, and Tortuga Escondida, began and ended with traditional costumed Maya ceremonies, including a spiritual element by the local shaman.

For the sisters, it will be a trip full of good memories.

"We will always remember the generosity of the town, which offered free lodging, supplies and other amenities," Gray said. "The organizers were phenomenal. For a first time event, things went as smoothly as any pro festival. Meeting young artists from around the world, watching them execute their large scale works, their energy, imagination, work ethic, and generosity. Seeing the town transformed from bland adobe structures to bright, imaginative works of art. The bond that developed by working together for the same goal, regardless of age, race, nationality, skill level. Alice and I were the oldest artists there, but we were embraced by the younger, hipper, more talented (and more tattooed) crowd."

Gray and Rzonsa hope to return to Akumal next year.

"The town is very dear to our hearts," Gray said "We've been donating supplies to the small library there, and doing art projects in the classrooms, since 2003."

Those who frequent the Davis Family YMCA will be able to see some of the work that took place in Akumal. Gray hung a display of some of the art created, and the artists who created it last week.

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