Community is Key

Traveling exhibit unlocks participants’ thoughts, hopes and dreams

Text and photography by Marina Davalos

Choose a key. Any key. What would this key open or do for you? This is the question that Centerville artist Lenore Lyons invites you and the whole community to ponder in her project, “The Key Idea.” You draw your key—with brief instruction—and write out your thoughts on a pre-cut square of heavyweight watercolor paper, anonymously, to add to the ever-growing traveling exhibit on the Cape. Hundreds of squares display drawings of keys with writings: “My key starts the road trip across the country.” “Quantum change.” “This key unlocks my spaceship because I’m out of this world.” All ages are represented: 1 to 100.

“I’ve always loved keys,” says Lyons. She has bowls and baskets full of them, given to her over the years by friends and family. “I’ve had keys from Asia, Central America, Canada. People just bring them to me.”

Four-year-old children take the question literally, surprised that a grown-up would ask what a key does. People in their twenties talk about finishing school and getting their degrees, traveling before settling down. The 30-year-old age group writes about starting a family, buying their first house, their parents. The 40-year-olds seem to go back to wanting to travel, adventure, and parents. “The fifties are all over the place,” says Lyons. “It’s been the one age group [for which] we haven’t been able to come up with a theme.”

One thing that has delighted Lyons is how much time and thought people put into choosing a key. Then, while they’re drawing the key, she can see the process of introspection begin to unfold. “As people draw the key, I can just see that they’re thinking about what they want to write. It’s incredible. People are really thoughtful in choosing what they want to write about—it’s a chance to talk about things. I’ve seen ‘campaign finance reform,’ ‘a cure for Lyme disease,’ ‘opening the door to heaven just for a few minutes.’”

People in their 70s and 80s write a lot about their health, “but then when you see a 12-year-old write something about their health, that really makes you stop and think,” says Lyons. The oldest participant is 100; a resident of one of the nursing homes that has participated in the project.

Upon finishing a key drawing and writing about what it represents, practically everyone wants to keep their key.

Lyons has been an art educator for more than two decades, and served as the director of arts education at the Cotuit Center for the Arts for four years. She’s taken “The Key Idea” project to schools in Dennis, Yarmouth and Barnstable, and has brought it to the NOAH Shelter in Hyannis; Bridge to Hope in Hyannis; the Robert F. Kennedy Children’s Action Corps in South Yarmouth; Brewster Treatment; and various nursing homes.

Her latest project is “Keystones.” She and volunteers have painted keys onto stones, with a website on the back of the stone; and they’ve placed the keystones on beaches and walking trails from Falmouth to Dennis for people to find. Once found, you can go onto the website and tell your story of where you found the keystone and what it might mean to you.

“Keys represent something important, they’re universal,” says Lyons. “In that sense, they connect people, because everyone has them. I plan on expanding The Key Idea project and taking it to different parts of the world. What if we did it in a different community? Would a different story emerge?”


“The Key Idea” project will be on display April 29-May 9 during Boston ArtWeek, 48 Rutland St., Boston, artweekboston.org. For more information on “The Key Idea” and “Keystone” projects, CLICK HERE

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