A crack in the sidewalk, a charcoal stick, and a box of chalk: that’s all it takes for Ann Arbor-based artist David Zinn to conjure delight out of the seemingly mundane.

Thanks to funding from the Five Healthy Towns Foundation, SRSLY Dexter and Dexter Library co-hosted Zinn to give local youth a tutorial in sidewalk chalk art outside of the library on Friday, September 15th. Based in prevention science research, SRSLY implements evidence-based strategies to reduce risk factors for—and enhance protective factors against—youth substance use. As a free after-school event open to Dexter-area 5th-12th graders, Zinn’s session served as a protective factor by fostering positive social norms through community art.

“Everything in front of you is either an obstacle or an opportunity, depending on how you look at it,” Zinn asserted to his captive audience while he transformed a block of drab cement into an endearing flying pig. After a brief history of his path as an artist and an entertaining lesson in pareidolia (seeing familiar images in random things, like seeing a face on the moon), Zinn gave his proteges a chance to convert the commonplace into works of ephemeral beauty.

It was evident how deeply Zinn’s work resonated with the attendees as they eagerly scattered to find a crack, smudge, or otherwise perfectly imperfect starting point for their art. A clump of tall grass morphed into the top of a carrot; spit-out gum became a campfire site for two cold dogs.

“David Zinn encourages imperfections,” said Dexter teen Adia Rokicki. “He lets art be what it wants to be.” In a world that increasingly values the illusion of perfection through social media, photo filters, and artificial intelligence, Zinn’s art demo served as a powerful message to youth that it’s OK not to be perfect, and that, in fact, is where true beauty lies.

Photos courtesy of SRSLY

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