Avoiding the Tag

They're the forgotten group, and it's no surprise so many of them end up on the street: When you're poor and stuck between the ages of 14 and 24, few service organizations want to deal with your headstrong, uncute and hopelessly unreformed ways. Unless you're lucky enough, that is, to stumble into a place like the Spot, a local evening haven where at-risk kids can congregate, create and maybe learn how to redesign their lives.

Under the direction of Mat Bobby, a graphic artist who doubles as the Spot's art and computer coordinator, and in collaboration with the Museum of Outdoor Arts, several Spot regulars have now created a multimedia installation, which includes a jointly conceived central sculpture, individual graffiti-inspired works and a constant trip-hop soundtrack. It's on exhibit at MOA through April.

It all started last Valentine's Day, when museum president Cynthia Madden Leitner brought instructor Todd Siler to the Spot armed with the simplest of art materials. "We brought our paper and scissors and glue and told them to create their own ideal creative environments," Leitner recalls. Each artist created a model from a hodgepodge of wooden dowels, pipe cleaners, old magazines and the like.

"From that came recurring themes--dreams, nature and time," Bobby says. The group eventually settled on a common motif: As the universe transmits ideas, individuals transform those ideas through personal experience. "The center part looks like a radio tower," he explains, "and around it, there's a six-foot ring filled with dirt four inches deep and planted with wheat grass, which should start growing soon." The surrounding works hanging on the walls represent the individual interpretations of ideas "received" by the central antenna, Bobby adds.

In addition to two of Bobby's pieces, the show includes a graffiti-style mixed-media work by Robert Carbajal, 19, and paintings in acrylic and spray paint by Seymon Gurule, 17, as well as music composed by Eric Jenkins, 18, who was once homeless but now works and studies at Metropolitan State College of Denver.

Leitner says that the installation surpassed all her expectations of what might come of the project. "I had a visualization of what they would do," she says. "But what they ended up with is such an incredibly sophisticated show--it's like New York."

And, notes Bobby, the kids involved got a glimpse of how they can be in control of their lives by channeling their unique talents. The Spot's stand on graffiti art, for instance, stresses the difference between blatant tagging and fine art. "Anybody can take some spray paint and scribble their name on a wall," Bobby says. "But if you look at some of the stuff on the walls here, you realize it takes some skill. We don't try to get them to stop, but we keep them informed about the laws--we let them know that if they're caught tagging, they could do some serious time."

It seems to work. "One thing about kids at the Spot, they seem to focus a lot more," Bobby says. "Their relationships last longer, and they hold down jobs. A lot of the time, they even get off drugs or at least use them less."

It simply helps to have the Spot, where people like Bobby--who is as likely to spend his hours there talking someone out of a suicide as he is teaching computer basics--seem to bend over backward for the kids. "They may not always see it that way, but we do," Bobby attests. "I would have loved to have a place like this to go to when I was a kid."

--Froyd

The Spot at MOA, through April 30, Museum of Outdoor Arts, 7600 East Orchard Road, 303-741-3609. Opening reception April 8, 5-7 p.m.

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Susan Froyd started writing for Westword as the "Thrills" editor in 1992 and never quite left the fold. These days she still freelances for the paper in addition to walking her dogs, enjoying cheap ethnic food and reading voraciously. Sometimes she writes poetry.
Contact: Susan Froyd