Mural Project: Day 1

Today was my first day on the job as a community muralist at the women and children’s homeless shelter. The non-profit that hired me was gracious enough to show me the artwork of my “competitors” whom I was chosen over, which didn’t help my nervousness of presenting something amazing for the participants I’d soon be working with. I really hope the non-profit, shelter, and company sponsoring me aren’t expecting something extravagant on the wall, as I’ve already informed them that I am more concerned about the process that will develop with the women and children vs. the product of the mural. Then again, maybe this is why they chose me over other professional muralists.

In the past, I’ve been involved with attempts to organize workshops and events that would help empower the community with tools to rise above different systems of oppression and cycles of poverty, domestic violence, police brutality, etc. Due to conflicting ideas, it never fell through. I was never interested in tackling these issues directly, because I was afraid that further discussion of these topics would only reaffirm people’s situations rather than help them. (Plus, I don’t have the answers to issues such as poverty since I’m barely learning how to make it myself!) Thus, this will be an interesting 8 weeks where I embark on an artistic journey with these wonderful people whom I soon hope will consider me as a part of their extended family. I’m not sure if I’ll be helping or healing them in anyway, but I hope to at least provide them the tools of self-expression through art + community support.

In an effort to build trust, I began today’s workshop with a a community tree. I was inspired by “An African Tree of Knowledge“, a curriculum provided by BuildtheWheel.org . The objective of this activity is to get people to think about the things that ground them (roots), things that hold them up (trunk), lessons they have learned throughout their life (branches), and knowledge they want to pass on (leaves).

I had no idea who would be participating, what the age range would be, and if people even knew I was there to provide these workshops. I also wanted to be cautious about putting anybody into a box of “Oh, you’re homeless so you should be in this workshop!”. At first, I only started with 3 participants. Despite the shelter thriving with tenants, I had a feeling they still did not trust my intentions. Therefore, I pulled the kitchen workers and other staff into the activity. By the end of the two hour session, we had at least 16 people from all over the building contributing to the tree. They ranged from 6 years old to people in their 60s. And the beautiful thing was, it didn’t matter who was homeless and who wasn’t. We were all human beings contributing to the tree with commonalities that intersected through the roots all the way to the leaves falling from the branches.

We have named this the “Lydia Tree”, the first of its kind with trunks that contain world maps and leaves with colors ranging from purple to lime green. Someone even taped a ziplock bag with water to make sure it receives nourishment. =)

Tomorrow was originally reserved for “Exploring the Impact of Art in Women and Children”, but because 1) I don’t have enough resources on this topic yet AND 2) they’re enjoying the process of creation and imagination, I think we’ll begin Circle Painting.
Plus, I’d like to think we’ll discover the impact of art on their personal lives along the way. =)

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