This image shows the scale of the building proposed to be the mural site and its atypical shape with me provided for scale. This building was always getting tagged and vandalized. It was a blight in the neighborhood and made the local soccer field have a heightened sense of danger at times. Adding art with the community's help would help bring ownership and pride to the area, I argued. In general, once art is on the wall, it is respected and left alone. The mural was hit with graffiti, destroying some great work that was not repainted again. These setbacks (there were two hits of tagging) reduced the complexity of detail on the water side of the mural and reduced the time and budget to bring the top portion of the mural added depth and interest.
Grants were secured and the business community followed with generous donations of paint, food, water, equipment and misc supplies. As an instructor working onsite, I was required to do an month of extensive training in all aspects of safety and regulations. I drove scissors lifts, parallel parked an 80 foot boom in a parking lot on a hill. I learned the history of gang violence and learned to spot the visual clues of tagging and what it signifies. I learned to identify subtle criminal behaviors, how resolve conflict, and my role as a mandatory-reporter. I learned their sign language. I was certified in Professional CPR and First Aid as an added layer of security. I was taught by police departments, medical health professionals, mental health professionals, and local educators on the various conditions and expectations working with a diverse group onsite. Some incidents did occur and all were handled properly with authorities responding as necessary. We survived an unleashed bloody pitbull attack and the repeat vandals who were destroying ground-level work. It was a good civic lesson, for teens to see how marking up or destroying someone's property has real consequences. I listened as while they painted, they discussed and determined to never destroy public property.
Partnering with multiple community businesses and organizations to employ area youth in the process of mural making was a great way to spend a summer. It gave teens a memorable summer job and helped fuel my passion for spreading art to local communities. I can still look at photos and remember details of our days years later. I am sure they can too. As part of a collation, we reviewed, interviewed, and selected candidates through a variety of organizations and with the help of community sponsors in both Nevada and California. Two months of in-classroom lessons at the Nevada Museum of Art culminated in the project proposal to the City Parks and Rec committee being accepted and sponsored. It was many of the student employees' first public speaking experience.
I also took them to the public library for researching the proposal and for reference materials. They were not allowed to use google or a search engine. I introduced them to the library in a way they'd never seemed to experience. In the end, I had convinced several teens who'd dropped out of school to return and/or get their GED. They followed through. So when I look at this mural, that's what I see. I see the hope and promise spelled out on the wall. The hard work, the troubles, the bloodied fights and the transformation of the apathetic to deeply feeling pride and ownership of a community. I overheard conversations and saw attitudes change as the mural progressed. I witnessed hate and indifference turn into respect and pride. When I see this wall, I see my impact. I see the brutally rough 16-yo student who was inspired by Athena, inspired by painting the warrior and then becoming the warrior in her own life. Athena was her turning point. She never considered herself capable of anything and had dropped out of school and gotten into a mix of crime. Now, there's light in her face and pride in her walk. Funny how paint can male change for good.
Classroom time was structured to gain the breadth of experience needed for such a large project. Math was a key component to success and was some of the first practical applications students had with how classroom lessons apply in the real world. The site was on a grade, had various dimensions based on the curved shape of the roof. Students were impacted by the building's architecture and proposed a mythology theme based on first impressions of the building. Research into mythology, proposals of content, theme, message were discussed and debated with intensity. Passion seeped into their work and they fought for ownership of the project and site. They learned to draw for scale and how traditional muralist worked without modern equipment. Some had never had an arts program in school as a teen. Some weren't really familiar with mixing paint or understanding color. In less than two months they were ready to paint and trained in public speaking. The physical painting took less than a month to accomplish with 4 morning hours onsite during the weekdays. Sponsorship was mainly provided by local youth services and program grants by correction institutions, youth and arts organizations like Sierra Arts Foundation, Nevada Museum of Art, Reno Police Department, Dixon California Paint, Sherwin-Williams, and many local Reno/Tahoe/Central Valley businesses contributed equipment and support. The Arts Integration Program is part of the Partners in Education program of the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts. The Kennedy Center staff assists arts organizations throughout the nation to develop or expand educational partnerships with their local communities through the arts. This program is designed to establish or expand professional development programs in arts integration and to benefit communities! The Kennedy Center’s extensive experience with its local professional development program, established in 1976, provides the basis for this national program.
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