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Rising Stars: Meet Lenore Lyons

Today we’d like to introduce you to Lenore Lyons.

Hi Lenore, so excited to have you with us today. What can you tell us about your story?
In venues, large and small, I set out trays full of used keys on big tables. People of all ages 1-100+ are asked to choose a key and with images and words, respond to the question: What does your key open or start or do?

Adults and children share their big ideas on beautiful paper. These KeyStories are immediately added to a display for others to view and appreciate. Their artwork becomes part of a national project and the key that inspired the writing is theirs to keep.

Everyone of every age does the exact same project with the same materials… and it doesn’t necessarily get easier as people age. Their answers are thoughtful and heartwarming; they often reveal the optimism in our communities. Since 2015, over 7000 people of all ages have shared their important thoughts through the metaphor of a key.

My goal with The Key Idea® is to prove a line in a Maya Angelou poem, “We are more like my friend than we are unalike.” I am finding that to be true… by age. Regardless of gender, race, political affiliation, or region of the US, people of similar ages, all over the country write about similar things. Here are just a few examples.

•This key opens a door to a happy, safe, and kind place that everyone is invited to. Tiger, age 10, Texas.

• This key opens a bright future for a smart young lady. Esther, age 14, Massachusetts.

• This key opens the door to self-awareness. It allows the user to see him or herself through the eyes of another. By looking through the door, one may find his or her purpose in this world.
Zach, age 20, Virginia.

This key holds the power to unlock all things that I thought wouldn’t be possible and the inspiration to do it. Georgia, age 21, Maryland.

• This key opens my secret superpower which is my imagination. I use it to do good in the world.
Patricia, age 53, Massachusetts.

•My key would open the hearts of people withholding rights of people of color. Equal rights for all.
Dolores, age 73, Georgia.

The Key Idea® started around twenty years ago as just a dream. I thought, someday, I wanted to tour America in an Art Bus and meet people by doing an art project with them. I knew it had to be simple, relatable, and portable. This idea percolated for years and finally, the idea landed on keys. At the time, I needed to develop a project for students, Pre-K through College for an Arts Appreciation Event. As part of the Cape Cod and Island Art Educators, we offered The Key Idea® for the first time. The students loved it and their parents and grandparents wanted to participate as well.

My intention, set years before, started to develop into a project. I worked through the ideas and problems with other art teachers, friends, and business people. I was ready to take this further but I needed keys and lots of them. I put an ad in the local paper asking people for keys that they no longer wanted. In a few weeks, thousands of keys came to me! In the Spring of 2015, my wife and I started taking the project around to festivals, schools, senior centers, and community events. People responded, they wrote about things that were important to them, things that matter.

Finally, in 2019, I was ready to plan the cross-country project we had talked about for so long. We got The Art Van, figured out routes and events, booked some Airbnbs. We traveled as far south as New Orleans the headed West.

We offered this project in Senior Centers, Farmer’s Markets, Local Festivals, Community Organizations, and House Parties. We met and had conversations with people at every location; people who were willing to write down their deep thoughts and connect with others through art. Please visit the website and see the KeyStories created by adults and children across the United States, people who shared their big ideas with a key.

The Key Idea is so visual. Check out this short video https://youtu.be/9rD9KVV501c.

Would you say it’s been a smooth road, and if not what are some of the biggest challenges you’ve faced along the way?
I will forever be grateful to my wife for her wise advice. When I was debating leaving a successful public-school teaching career to lead a more artful life, I worried and said to Diane, “What will happen if this idea doesn’t work?” With confidence, Diane said, “You’ll have another idea.”

There have been many obstacles and challenges all along the way! I imagine most entrepreneurs would say that. I had to learn so many things. I found smart people and asked for guidance. The people at our local SCORE office were so helpful. I found lots of free classes online- I needed to learn how to use social media, maintain a website, develop spreadsheets, write newsletters and press releases as well as build the project itself. We incorporated as a non-profit in August of 2016. Then I needed to learn to write grants and be accountable for money spent.

I learned to trust the process.

Sometimes you learn by trial and error. I was so proud of my first exhibit of over 2000+ KeyStories in 2015. They were beautifully arranged on a grid in age order, 1-100. It was magnificent and I was awed by the cohesiveness of the exhibit that was created by so many people who don’t self-describe as artists. Sadly, it was also the most falling-down exhibit ever in the gallery! I did not consider the effects of air conditioning by day and very warm nights which made my adhesives fail. I fixed it nearly every other day for six weeks. I learned to revise my hanging system and began to build large display panels which worked really well, then I made banners when portability was an issue.

Momentum was building. In January of 2020, we started the cross-country trip that we had dreamed about for so many years. We traveled south and west. Many people picked a key and added it to the project. We spent 55 days traveling, meeting people, and collecting dreams. We made it as far as LA and then COVID shut down the world and we raced home in five days of ten-hour drives.

We were anxious to travel again and finally revived the project and left home in August of 2021 heading toward Florida. As we traveled, events were canceled due to increases in COVID. One big positive was adding the Baltimore Farmers’ Market and Bazaar which was scheduled at the last minute.

At different times along the way I have questioned whether or not to continue the project. Then I spent time re-reading some of the pieces and fell in love with the project all over again. I am honored to be entrusted with the dreams and deep thoughts of thousands of children and adults and even four – one-hundred-year-olds! I will take this time at home to digitally organize the thousands of small squares of art.

I believe the Key Idea® is my purpose. I will face the challenges as they come, I guess I have a key to resilience.

Can you tell our readers more about what you do and what you think sets you apart from others?
I think what sets me apart from others is my ability to make art accessible and fun, a way for people of all ages to interact with each other. I get asked how I get people to trust me so quickly; why do they share personal stories and challenges within a few minutes of meeting me? I’m not sure other than I am truly interested in listening to them share the backstory of their KeyStory.

Participants are always asked if they want to keep their key and most do. Adults like to keep their keys to remind them of the goal or dream they wrote. I think I have given away more than 5000 keys in the past five years. I am known as “The Key Lady” and that’s okay by me.

Before we let you go, we’ve got to ask if you have any advice for those who are just starting out?
Do what you need to do, that’s my best advice. Sometimes an idea comes along and it might sound crazy but you just can’t shake it. I admire people who follow their dreams even when there is a risk, even when others don’t understand.

Pricing:

  • Just the Basics
  • • KeyStory Package $25.00
  • The Standard KeyStory Package $60.00
  • The Party KeyStory Package $125.00
  • The Big Group Package for 100 $350.00
  • Corporate Key
  • • Personalized quotes for programs and packages. Each corporate package will support a school program.

Contact Info:

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