LEXINGTON PARK, Maryland. – In early spring 2022, St. Mary’s CDC was approached by a small group of local art lovers with an idea: how to bring hope to Lexington Park. This idea of ”hope” began with Charlie Hewitt, a renowned St. Mary’s County artist now based in Portland, Maine, and his nationwide “Hope Project”. Charlie’s artwork, which may resemble one of the big signs you might have seen in a movie theater of yesteryear, is colorfully painted and lit up with LED lights, eventually giving the name of his project: HOPEFUL.
The creation of Project Hope in 2019 was inspired by the dark New England winters and Charlie’s desire to not only bring light to his community, but to encourage unity, unity and optimism. Charlie has installed his full-scale elements of Project Hope in big cities and small towns all along the East Coast, as far away as Easton, Maryland, and a miniature version of the sign is in Ann Marie Gardens in the Solomon Islands. We are honored and delighted to welcome Charlie’s positive message to the community where he grew up!
Let’s start from the beginning: a steering group that included the aforementioned art lovers, as well as St. Mary’s County Arts Council (SMCAC) Executive Director Nell Elder, CDC Executive Taylor Smith, and CDC Board Member The Board of Directors met in early spring to determine scope and direction of the Lexington Park Hope Project. In conversations about location, priority was given to the Great Mills Road corridor, the main highway through Lexington Park, and the CDC mission center. The group found it necessary to place the public art piece in a place where it would be seen and appreciated as it deserves.
Most importantly, however, the steering group’s discussions quickly led to the goal of implementing programs and outreach before public art was installed to ensure community participation and provide an opportunity for Lexington Park residents to find hope in their neighborhoods. Recognizing that Lexington Park reputedly has a lot of room for improvement, the CDC and the steering group recognized the importance of meaningful community-level action before introducing art and set out to define what that might look like.
After lengthy discussions, the steering group decided to build a home for the Hopeful Project at the Church of the Ascension, located at 21641 Great Mills Road. The group agreed that public art work would flourish there, with beautiful greenery and a historic white church on a hill in the background. Luckily, the Church has been working for a long time to build strong relationships with local organizations to strengthen social bonds and build a formal community coalition for Lexington Park. The pieces of the puzzle began to fit together.
Shortly thereafter, at the end of March, work began with the Church, and the group was notified of Pastor Greg Siler’s intention to leave in April for a four-month vacation abroad. In Pastor Siler’s absence, CDC and SMCAC directors began brainstorming how community-based programs could be the focus of Project Hope without any time limit.
During the third Cherry Blossom Festival at Lexington Manor Passive Park, St. Mary’s CDC and SMCAC began engaging with the community and updating them on exciting news about the Hope Project coming to Lexington Park. The practical exercises aimed at presenting the project at these events helped the neighbors to appreciate the strengths, opportunities and potential of our community.
Upon Pastor Sailer’s return, the direction of the Hope Project became clear. The community of Lexington Park must first Feel the hope that the message of art offers, in the same ways that the artist felt motivated to initiate his project: unity, unity and optimism.
To achieve this goal, St. Mary’s CDC has initiated efforts to gather residents from areas surrounding Ascension, beginning with Patuxent Homes. As one of the first neighborhoods built in the 1940s in Lexington Park, Patuxent Homes was built on 216 acres and consists of at least 20 streets, about 400 residential and commercial lots, and over 1,000 residents. St. Mary’s CDC currently acts as the facilitator and support for the Patuxent Homes Residents Group, providing resources for community organizing, community outreach, and empowerment. Residents are currently exploring ways to encourage fellowship in their area, improve social connections, and build neighborhood pride. Stay tuned for updates on when public art will become home to the Church of the Ascension.
We look forward to the residents of Patuxent Homes teaming up, realizing their various assets and exploring new opportunities for their neighborhood. St. Mary’s CDC is proud to play a part in Lexington Park’s revitalization and we are incredibly HOPEFUL for what the future holds for all of us.