Completion of multi-panel mural project, Colonels Create @EKU

  • Detail, Colonels Create collaborative mural
  • detail of Colonels Create community mural
  • Detail, Colonels Create collaborative mural
  • Detail, Colonels Create collaborative mural
  • Detail, Colonels Create collaborative mural

A group of about twenty EKU freshman and leaders in the First Year Experience program helped me finish our multi-panel mural project on December 5, 2019 in EKU’s beautiful Noel Studios. This was the last of four fall sessions, strategically chosen for their position on the academic calendar during challenging times (first weeks of term, pre-fall break, mid-terms, finals). The purpose of the mural project was to provide a quiet, mindful space to create without judgment, as well as teach the participants how taking creative risks can help them learn to be more resilient during tough times and challenging situations. We often can’t change what’s happening, but we can choose how we feel about and deal with it!

As with all my community art projects, participants help design and execute the project. My single contribution to the mural was the word “resilience” — and sponging paint around the edges. Participants collectively and collaboratively chose the color scheme, shapes and their position, and choice and placement of additional handwritten words.

As usual at each session there were folks reluctant to participate who were soon drawing and painting with finesse and gusto. Also as usual we talked while we worked, and about many things including the myth of mistakes (they are really opportunities) and ownership issues when one is working on a collaborative artwork (meaning giving up control, which can be freeing instead of frustrating).

I look forward to similar projects in the upcoming new year!!

The HUHO! Project Progress

On October 30, 2019 I felt I made significant inroads on Hold Up Hold On!, a community art mural project centered on youth resilience and mental health awareness. See the HUHO! page for details.

It has been three years since I was a full-time teaching artist in after school programs, so I am getting up to speed in a hurry on student engagement, which has become even more challenging. I initially hoped for a single, well attended event where we gathered photographs and text — but we got no takers even though we (my creative female team of a high school and Berea College student) distributed postcards and did an informational tabling outside of the cafeteria. But I don’t give up easy, if at all.

Yesterday I was invited into an art classroom to talk to kids face to face, and pitch the project. As always, it was satisfying and stunning to see how some reacted. And we got a participant in the afternoon who helped us brainstorm and update our mural composition. Read more about the experience in the blog!

I’m a KFW AMA Grant Recipient again!

In February 2019, I met with two high school girls and a Mom, and over art making talked about the mental health crisis at a local high school. This led to a brainstorming session about a collaborative community mural project involving at-risk girls, a contact with the dedicated therapist at one of the high schools, and a swiftly researched and written Art Meets Activism Grant to the Kentucky Foundation for Women. See the description here. Yup. I got the grant.

Writing the grant was scary though. The last time I got an AMA grant was in 2015-2016, and I was never able to produce a finished product from it. Owen Carl Chaney, lost to suicide on 8/22/2016, helped me with the project, was in many documentary photographs of the project, which also involved at-risk youth, and I just could not face the raw material while feeling so raw myself. For the first time in my artistic life, I felt paralyzed, blocked.

The KFW was extremely understanding about this. They gave me two extensions, and a retreat at Hopscotch House, hoping to help. It didn’t. To this day, when I think of that raw material, hours and hours of interviews of elder women and young girls and the projects we did together with Owen at my side, my throat still closes in panic.

I was truthful about the situation with my teenage artist partners. I warned them I might not get the new grant because of my failure to follow through on the last one. But not only did I get the grant, $3280 to engage teenage girls from Berea high schools in a public mural project focused on youth mental health and based on photographs of their hands holding objects that help them feel safe, secure and empowered. I got the best acceptance letter ever, full of compliments and encouragement. My hands shook as I opened the envelope. Then I read the contents and cried.

Since that Sunday morning early in June I have been able to do additional, formerly unthinkable things. I reached out to the new volunteer coordinator at the homeless shelter where I met and made art with Owen and offered to help her get our yard mural touched up and finally finished. I also attended a mural festival in Harlan, Kentucky, where I worked on a wall for the first time since before Owen died. I cannot describe the joy I felt when my body and mind effortlessly remembered how to do this, and remembered doing it with Owen.

So I want to thank the Kentucky Foundation for Women from the bottom of my aching, singing heart for this healing, growing, opportunity.

Upward Bound Arts Outreach, Summer 2019

Upward Bound students, Summer 2019 on collaborative mural art project.

I am once again partnering with Upward Bound at Eastern Kentucky University to facilitate helpful and team building art projects with youth. I have several returners, pictured here, from last year. Youth enrolled in my class are both driving and creating the panel designs as a group, using words and images that relate to Resilience — the theme of our multi-paneled mural.

But as always I started with a visual ice-breaker of sorts, from an idea I borrowed from an amazing photography project in which an artist interviewed homeless and photographed them holding a cardboard sign that educated the public about how the homeless are just like us — former dancers, businessmen, professionals. Instead, I had UB kidz write something about themselves that isn’t obvious to someone who doesn’t know them well. The answers were funny, touching, and sad.

Muralville!

This is just a sampling of the mural projects I facilitated and worked on with under-represented and marginal artists between 2013 and 2016. And there’s more to come!!!

I am thrilled to announce that I will be facilitating another public mural project after a three year hiatus, and it will involve young women and girls and focus on mental health awareness. More to come as the grant announcement is released!!