NEW MILFORD — Resident Aine McInerney, 15, said she hopes for unity between people of all genders, races and nationalities.

Aine created a design that reflects her hope for the world as part of the “My Heart Beats For,” the town’s Arts by Youth Initiative. The project involved the town’s young people designing posters that show what’s important to them.

The project began in February as part of a larger town-wide initiative for New Milford to become certified as a sustainable town, and to show it “has a healthy and vibrant arts and culture ecosystem that includes us — New Milford’s youth,” said Yaeyoung Min, who played a large role in the effort from its inception.

“A group of students, teachers, artists and interested residents came together to figure out what a town art project with kids might look like,” Yaeyoung said. “We, the youth on the team, said it was important that the project — one, was not screen based; and two, that it was truly visible to everyone in town, and three, that the project showed that kids have things to say.”

“After some discussion, we decided that a banner themed project made sense. ‘My Heart Beats For’ would be our theme,” Yaeyoung said.

She added that the judging was blind.

“The judges didn’t know the name, age, or school of any of the students,” Yaeyoung said.

About 100 people recently came out to the New Milford Green for the culmination of the project — the announcement of the three winners: Joshua Violette for grades 4-6, Aine McInerny for grades 7-9 and Sompour Wolfe for grades 10-12. All winners received a $100 gift certificate.

There were 100 entries, and 50 designs were selected to become banners that now hang around the Green and along Railroad Street in downtown New Milford. They will remain there through November.

Themes include music, dance, family, human rights, nature, environment, imagination, and creativity. The banners also will be featured in an online gallery that will soon be set up at heartbeatsnewmilford.org.

“This whole project started out as a sustainability effort, looking at our arts and culture ecosystem, so when the banners come down in early November, they’re all going to be upcycled into tote bags,” Yaeyoung said.

Aine said she was motivated to create a design about unity because she believes politics “really pulls everybody apart.”

Also, the quarantine and the coronavirus “has really drawn everybody further and further away and we need to unite together once again and work on equality and peace.”

Joshua Violette, 11, who, like Aine, had a winning design, said his heart beats for music. His banner, therefore, had a music theme.

“(My design) embraces the happiness that music gives to people,” said Joshua, adding that music is a large part of his life.

Yaeyoung said it was very exciting to see so many people gathered together to create something “really cool.”

New Milford Superintendent of Schools Alisha DiCorpo said when Stephen Gass first introduced the idea for the project, she thought it would “be so wonderful for the town to experience this.”

Gass is co-caption of the Sustainable Connecticut New Milford Action Team and owner of The Gass Co., a media design and production firm.

DiCorpo recalled sitting at a table with Jason O’Connor, executive director of the New Milford Youth Agency; and Schaghitoke Middle School Assistant Principal Cathy Calabrese, in the early days of the initiative.

“We were trying to find a way to get kids involved and trying to choose the teachers and staff that should be involved in this,” Di Corpo said. “When we reached out to the staff, we had so many. That was just the start of this, and to see this come to fruition like it did — it’s so heartwarming.”

The project showed that “a simple idea and an inclusive process can have a positive impact on and add richness to the town’s arts and culture ecosystem,” Gass said.

He added he hopes the town will make the project an annual event and explore ways in which other “New Milford Arts by Youth” initiatives will happen down the road.

“The project enabled the community to see what’s in the hearts of the kids in New Milford,” he said

sfox@milfordmirror.com

Connecticut Media Group