It's being called the "synergy of the arts world and the sports world."
The Newtown Youth Academy celebrated the introduction of a new mural celebrating play and sport Friday night with an outdoor gala and words from its founder, Pete D'Amico, and artist Nichole Blackburn.
The 100-foot mural stretches throughout the facility's lobby, depicting kids at play. Blackburn traveled from California to Newtown, staying in town for weeks. Newtown High School students contributed to the mural, including the centerpiece in the facility's conference room. (See photo above.)
The walls were drab and white before this, including in the conference room — but even there, the walls without murals now serve as a whiteboard for patrons to write their own messages. One had written, "We'll Miss You Nichole!"
The facility celebrates its five-year anniversary in two weeks, and the new mural also serves as a commemoration of the work NYA has done since opening.
"I can't believe it's been five years since the opening day," said D'Amico. "NYA has been a great success from what my vision was."
It started with a room for soccer, he said -- then spaces for basketball and track. Doors opened Nov. 1, 2008.
"In the past 5 years, NYA has grown to be much more than a sports facility."
It served as a refuge during storms Irene and Sandy, and in aftermath of the Dec. 14 shooting.
"The healing that has taken place in this building is incredible," said co-director Dory Carroll. "And for Nichole to take two weeks and come up here -- we're just blessed."
Newtown parents agreed.
"In a town that has a dark cloud hanging over, it is so uplifting to walk into a facility full of color," said parent Caren Wellman. "Slowly we are adding color back into our lives and this lasting piece of art in a place that has opened it's arms to this community is so very fitting. Children should not see the world in black and white, they should see a world full of color, hope, and endless possibility. This act of kindness will be a daily reminder of good things."
Blackburn is the founder of Big Sky Countries, a California-based art non-profit that provides murals and other artistic endeavors for communities across the world.
"I was moved by the fact the NYA gave parents a safe place to bring their children to play with friends, free from televisions and news crews," she said. "Sharing the same value as Big Sky Countries, I knew I wanted to help the NYA in their journey of cultivating an environment where kids can be kids."
In a ceremony Friday night, Farley proclaimed Blackburn an honorary NYA member and thanked her "for choosing love."
"One thing i can say is, it's community and love," said Blackburn. "This place has become my family."