BREWER, Maine — Zach Scott pressed his drawing of a monster truck onto the brick wall and began methodically slathering wheat paste — a temporary glue made from flour, sugar and water — on top of the paper and onto the exterior of Higher Ground Services, a community counseling center on Center Street.
“I wanted to draw something I like, and monster trucks and cars and things that are fast are my favorite,” said Zach, 9. “I want people to see the things I like.”
A few minutes earlier, Zach was inside the building, along with eight other children, creating “street art” with Pigeon, a Bangor-based visual artist.
Pigeon — by day known as Orson Horchler — is best known in Bangor as the man behind the airplanes, monsters, eagles, pigeons and other temporary artworks that have been pasted onto surfaces throughout downtown Bangor for the past two years.
On Friday, Pigeon led a workshop with members of a group therapy session for children age 8 to 12 run by Kate Kelly, a counselor at Higher Ground.
“I was really interested in doing a workshop because I think of what I do as community art therapy. It’s a way to help people engage with their surroundings,” said Pigeon. “My long-term goal is to teach things like this to anyone living in a violent or difficult situation. I’m not a therapist, but I can teach people what I know and what I’ve learned.”
The workshop began with a discussion about the difference between graffiti and vandalism and street art. Street art happens when you have permission of the owner of the place you’re putting your art, or are making something temporary. Graffiti and vandalism are when it’s permanent and you don’t have permission.
“Those are definitely two different things,” said Solomon Finch, 10, who drew a spider and a butterfly as her contribution to the art installation. “I think if you do something like that when somebody doesn’t want it, that’s not OK. But if you can take it down, then it’s OK.”
At Higher Ground, Kelly has worked with young people and families who have lived through traumatic situations. She has used art therapy in the past as a way to help participants engage with the world around them. This summer, she had children in her group create Jackson Pollock-inspired paintings and sketch self-portraits.
“A lot of these kids are in those years before high school, where you can really instill in them a better connection to their community,” said Kelly. “They’re on the brink. They might be the ones that would spray graffiti on an underpass. Things like this can teach them to stop and think about what they want to say or do before they go ahead and do it.”
Pigeon also believes that interactive public art can help young people gain a more thoughtful and positive, less confrontational attitude towards the society in which they live.
“I want to see street art that’s meaningful and constructive,” he said. “If you get people to think about what they are doing and actually look at the things around them, you can change attitudes. You can incite change.”
“I think a lot of kids, growing up in rural Maine, they tend to think, ‘This place sucks and I can’t wait to leave,’” said Kelly. “If you give them an opportunity to make it what they want it to be, it might be different. They can feel like they belong. Maybe this might help reduce graffiti. Maybe we’ll see some really interesting and beautiful street art in the future.”