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Student ‘superheroes’ use art to defeat conflict

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Student caped crusaders with cool names like “Graphite,” “Brushstroke” and “Zoom” landed in town last week, armed with a weapon they claim tops x-ray vision, Spider sense and even super strength: creative thinking.

Civic-minded swashbucklers Owen “O.J.” Shepard, Patrick Camilien, Maimoona Rahim, Miranda Gill, and Victor Osoria spent part of their spring break from upstate’s Alfred University leading an interactive workshop for after-school students at the Red Hook Initiative community center, using art as a tool to solve problems without violence.

The team — who call themselves the Art Force Five — dress to impress, wearing cloaks as art aprons and use their comic book-inspired alter-egos to reflect popular art forms: Graphite likes to draw, Brushstroke wields a paint brush, and Zoom captures the action with a camera. There’s also 3-D, who builds sculptures and a sense of community, and Runway, a fashion diva who finds beauty in us all.

Kids made their own superheroes from clothespins, pipe cleaners and bits of fabric, and learned how to hone their powers of observation through drills, including one in which the word “yellow” was written in blue ink. The youngsters were then quizzed on what color they saw.

“We wanted them to see that diversity is everywhere, and that everybody should incorporate everybody in what they do,” said Shepard.

Another exercise had the tweens and teens seeking out underlying messages in everyday images, such as the small arrow in the FedEx logo signifying action.

Rahim’s alter-ego — Brushstroke — was all about empowerment.

“I inspire people to reach their potential,” she said. “Fight or flight isn’t the only option.”

The visit exposed the youngsters to college students and gave them a lesson on recognizing similarities and differences in other people, said Jill Eisenhard, the center’s founder and executive director.

“The kids were very engaged, which is hard to do with middle-school students!” she added.

The Art Force Five’s simple formula has helped kids battle beastliness — and jump with joy — according to Dan Napolitano, a dean at the university.

“Such projects can be used as a means to heal in the wake of tragedy, celebrate in response to triumph, or just acknowledge those issues that shape our lives,” he said.

Reach reporter Shavana Abruzzo at or by calling (718) 260-2529.

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