Jazz Moe was strolling through Times Square in New York City when a public art project of two “really colorful” panda bears caught her eye.
“They really brightened up the street, so I was thinking that I should do something [like that] at home,” the 16-year-old said.
Moe returned to Hilton Head Island with a mission — to find something bland she could brighten up and, hopefully, inspire others.
Island Academy teacher Mary Ann Cyr says that artful — and involved — approach is what makes Moe stand out from her peers.
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“She actually sees her community and sees ways to be helpful, and in that way I think she’s a little bit of a role model,” she said. “And not just to teenagers, but for other people to look around and say, ‘What can I do to help? How can I make things just a little better and a little more beautiful?’”
The project started with the average public bench —the standard brown wood, black wrought-iron bench that sits in front of every storefront and in every public park.
This particular bench sat in front of Surf’s Up, a shop full of brightly-colored beach accessories and Hilton Head souvenirs. A bland bench just didn’t seem to fit.
“So I walked into the store (and) asked them what they thought and they thought it would be a great idea,” Moe said. “So I took (the idea) and ran with it.”
Surf’s Up employee Jenny Aguilar says the team is happy with how the bench turned out.
“It looks amazing,” she said. “She is very inspirational to other young people around the island. If she could just team up and make this project bigger, it would make a whole lot of difference.”
Moe hopes to spend her summer tackling more public art projects. She painted her name and number on the side of the Surf’s Up bench, and is awaiting a new call to action.
“Hopefully I will get lots of other benches to do on the island,” she said.
Moe spent 30-40 hours transforming the bench. With guidance from art teacher Judy Blahut, Moe created a plan.
First, she planned the design. For a pattern, she settled on “zentangle,” which Moe described as “a pattern where there’s basically no wrong (way) to do it. It’s just fun.”
Second, she chose her concept — bright and inspirational.
Then it was time to paint.
She started with a primer, first painting the bench white.
Next, it was time for color — which, in this case, meant painting all of the colors of the rainbow.
Finally, she brought out the black paint and started painting words.
Moe hopes the inspirational words will “brighten some peoples’ days.”
Various shapes are interwoven into the zentangle pattern — plants, flowers, dreamcatchers, puzzle pieces, paw prints, peace signs — all flowing together over the rainbow base.
Her mother, Elise Brady, said the work-in-progress bench sat in the family’s front yard for a few months, and that she sometimes sat in it and let her mind wander.
“I would look at some of the words and think, ‘Oh. Maybe this would be a really good place for people to sit and be introspective and mindful and think about the moment,’” she said. “Because that’s what most people are here for, right? To be on vacation, and think about the moment and enjoy family and all of those other neat words.”
An artist in the making
Moe is a sophomore at Island Academy, but has been offered a spot at the South Carolina Governor’s School for Arts and Humanities.
She accepted the offer Thursday.
In the fall, Moe will pack up her stuff and head to Greenville. While she’ll only be a junior in high school, her experience will mirror a college freshman’s.
Moe will live in a residence hall, eat in dining halls, attend daily classes and participate in student-life activities. According to the school’s website, she’ll balance an “academically rigorous curriculum” with real-world experience in programs ranging from creative writing to dance to the visual arts.
“It’s an opportunity for her to experience things that she would never have had the chance to do at this age,” her mom said. “It’s an amazing school.”
And while Moe’s primary reason in refurbishing the bench was to inspire her community, the project might have helped secure her spot at the school.
“I think this piece may have been a great opportunity for me to show them who I really am, what I’m about, versus just checking off the boxes.”