You may recognize Steve Nilson from the Hyde Park YMCA, where he is director of operations. Steve is also a teacher, mentor, and talented artist who helps keep Hyde Park beautiful through his various efforts in the community, including the new mural on the front of True Value Hardware (pictured above). Read about all the ways Steve contributes to the beauty, vitality, and positivity of our community in this month’s Humans of Hyde Park feature.
~Interview by Cathy Horn~
What is your connection to Hyde Park?
I am a Hyde Park resident and have lived here for about 13 years. I have been working at the Thomas M. Menino YMCA in Hyde Park for the past 16 years. Additionally, I’m a member of The Switch Co-Op, which is a non-profit, volunteer led Artist Co-Op in Hyde Park. I grew up in Roslindale, which is the next neighborhood over, so have always been familiar with Hyde Park and spent a lot of time here growing up.
What do you like best about the community?
I love the diversity here in Hyde Park. Seeing people from all different backgrounds coming together is amazing. We are also very fortunate to still have plenty of green space in our neighborhood. The improvements that were made along the bike path that runs through the MBTA station in Mattapan Sq. and out to Dorchester have been amazing. Seeing so many families and people taking advantage of this public space to exercise and come together is beautiful. I love that we have a strong art scene here, and it seems like it is continuing to grow. In general, in my opinion and experience, there has been plenty of positive change that has taken place here over the past decade or so. There are a lot of people that are very passionate about Hyde Park that are doing great things for the community.
In what ways do you involve yourself with the community?
Last year presented a lot of incredible opportunities, especially with Hyde Park celebrating its 150th birthday (HP150). I’ve also been strongly connected to and involved with the community through the work I do at the YMCA and from volunteering at the Switch Co-Op. I was fortunate to have had a unique opportunity come up in 2018 where a local Boston Public High School in Hyde Park, Boston Community Leadership Academy, was looking for an art teacher. I’ve always wanted to teach art to youth, so I said yes immediately. This allowed me to do what I was passionate about doing while fulfilling a community need, and it was an incredible experience. Teaching ended up leading to me working with some of my students in creating the HP150 mural that is currently installed on True Value Hardware on River St., which was yet another dream of mine that was accomplished. I was the co-chair of the HP150 Arts Committee and got to work with some awesome people and we ran some great events last year. Lastly, I try to make it out to as many community meetings and events as possible. I feel it is important to show up, support, and get involved where you can.
What efforts have you made (or been involved with) to make Hyde Park clean, green and beautiful?
Each year we do several clean-up days at the Y and work with some of our major partners in recruiting volunteers to come out. We have also done projects in the past called “Togetherhood”, which is volunteer led and focuses on having a positive impact on the community. A big focus of the work that we do at the Y is getting youth connected to positive adult role models. It is important that we identify where we can help to cultivate and instill positive, life-long values through meaningful relationships with those that come through our doors. I believe that this will lead to increased awareness and a sense of community-ownership over our neighborhoods from residents long-term. I would like to think that being involved with the arts and getting others involved, including the mural we painted for True Value, adds to the overall beauty of the neighborhood. I would love to do more projects like that in the future in addition to participating in more clean-up events.
Tell us about your artistic background. How did you learn to paint murals? How do you share that talent and experience with others?
I’ve been drawing for as long as I can remember. It was something I just had a natural interest in and really enjoyed doing. To be able to take something that is just a thought in your head and sort of “transfer” it onto a surface by drawing or painting it still amazes me. It was a great hobby that allowed me to get creative and produce tangible work where I was basically competing against myself and holding myself accountable to improving. I used to put VHS-tape cartoons and video games on “pause” when I was young and would try to draw the characters. I would also draw the names of hip-hop groups and bands that I listened to, which led to me being pretty obsessed with forming letters. I never stopped drawing and it transitioned into learning more about using color schemes, painting, and using all different kinds of mediums. All of this led into creating larger-scale paintings and pieces of artwork, and then some mural opportunities came my way that I took on with no hesitation. I have a great group of artist friends, and it’s awesome sharing work with each other, exchanging honest feedback, and growing together. I enjoy collaborating with others and learning from each other. Being involved with The Switch has also been super helpful with building, sharing, and growing as an artist and stepping further outside of my comfort zone.
As far as sharing my experiences with others, the top things that come to mind are: Teaching at BCLA allowed me to provide instruction to a high school class where everyone got to complete their own work of art. I’ve been working on art-related projects at the Y for well over a decade now. I try to positively promote art to almost everyone I come in contact with. There were so many events last year I was involved with that showed people some of the basics of art that they can take with them and apply to future creations if they’d like. Even just showing someone art can spark creativity or inspire someone else. To me, it is important that we do what we can to keep art alive so that it continues to grow and evolve. I also love making art for others. Even if they are not an artist themselves, people really seem to enjoy art as gifts. It’s one-of-a-kind and comes directly from what’s inside of a fellow human being, you know? I would strongly encourage folks that if you have a passion for something (that’s healthy of course), keep at it and make sure it doesn’t get lost in the day-to-day craziness that life can bring. Nothing feels better than being productive and being happy with what you bring to the world.
Nominate yourself or someone in the community for a future Humans of Hyde Park story; nominees can remain anonymous in the story or use their first name only if they prefer: https://goo.gl/forms/qgTj1Rh8t2bSbh973.
Quiana first came to Boston as a college student, graduating from Wellesley College in 2002 and returned in 2016 to live in Hyde Park with her husband and two children.