- Associated Press - Tuesday, January 14, 2020

HYANNIS, Mass. (AP) - Some people look at an old metal key and see the locked up, no longer accessible past.

But Centerville artist Lenore Lyons collects keys as part of a project to unlock the hopes and dreams of children and adults not only on Cape Cod, but across the country.

The Key Idea she developed in 2014 operates on a simple but powerful concept.

Participants select a key from bowls or trays Lyons provides them. They draw the key and write a response to the question, “What does your key open or start to do?”

The responses have been amazing, said Lyons, who came up with the idea when asked to develop a community project for the Cape Cod & Islands Arts Educators Association.



“It began to take on a life of its own the very first night,” Lyons said.

“Keys open things,” she said. “But they really open ideas for people, too.”

Thirty-year-olds write about their dreams of having a baby.

The parent of an adult daughter with mental health issues said the key freed the daughter’s mind and soul.

A child participating in the Key Idea’s Wisdom of Children exhibit, recently held at the Hyannis Youth and Community Center, wrote, “This key unlocks a giant refrigerator to solve world hunger.”

Another child wrote that the key was used to unlock a house that was foreclosed on.

“This key represents happiness,′ the child wrote. “Everything was taken. But happiness cannot be taken.”

So far, 6,000 people, mainly from Cape Cod, have taken part in the Key Idea, Lyons said.

She and her wife, Diane Thayer, are preparing to take the exhibit on the road in mid-January, starting with a Martin Luther King Day of service in Philadelphia before traveling to a library in Nashville and a farmers market in New Orleans. From there they’ll head west to California.

First, they will stop at a tiny-house community in Texas housing formerly homeless people, Lyons said. She said when she read about the community, she felt inspired to pay a visit.

“What the (Key Idea) project does is give a voice to people who haven’t been heard,” said Lyons, who is a retired public school teacher in Sandwich.

The Cape Cod and Islands Arts Educators Association asked Lyons to come up with a community “project everybody could do,” which resulted in the Key idea.

“It had to be something that was universally appealing,” Lyons said.

Keys seem to hold a little bit of magic in their metal heft and symbolism, said Lyons, who got her first batch of keys after issuing a call for donations through the Times’ “Write to Know” column in 2014.

Since then, people have mailed her keys lovingly packed in bubble wrap and even keys bent in fires.

Realtors and the Dr. Solomon Carter Fuller Mental Health Center in Boston have given her hundreds of keys, Lyons said. She said she removes the rings and washes them to prepare them for the exhibit.

Participants are given 5 ½-inch sheets of watercolor paper that is already sprinkled lightly with ink to remove their inhibitions about approaching a blank page, Lyons said.

“They don’t have to worry. I’ve already wrecked it,” she joked.

And thanks to the Key Idea, one artistic idea has led to another.

The project’s Wisdom of Children exhibit was so well received at the Hyannis Youth and Community Center that Melissa Chartrand of Arts Barnstable decided to create a rotating exhibit of art by Cape Cod students.

“It’s an exciting opportunity for students to be able to showcase their artwork,” said Chartrand, who also hopes to incorporate literary arts in the exhibit.

Lyons said she and Thayer will be traveling in their “ArtVan” as they travel across the country for the next few months in search of additional KeyStories for the Keys to Our American Dreams project.

They’ll be stopping at migrant communities in Arizona and New Mexico as well as libraries and community gathering places.

Everybody has hopes and dreams, Lyons said.

“I think as a nation, we’re more alike than different.”

Online: https://bit.ly/30goqKm

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