The Artolution has been organizing collaborative mural art projects in communities across North America since 2008, engaging children and teenagers from marginalized neighborhoods, incarcerated youth and adults, inmates in a drug rehabilitation center and young people with mental and physical disabilities. To make this work possible, we have collaborated with dozens of incredible local community organizations. We are currently working to organize ongoing community art-based programs with young refugees and asylum-seekers in New York City, where we’re based. The following are four examples of our Artolution projects in the US and Canada:
Vancouver: Mural with Patients Overcoming Addiction
In Vancouver, Artolution’s Max Frieder worked with over 200 men and women who suffered from drug addiction, mental illness and homelessness to create a large-scale canvas mural in partnership with Rain City Housing, Cameras 4 Change and the Triage Public Housing Center. The experience of collaborative art-making was an outlet for these participants, with workshops focused on the healing process and building healthy and positive relationships. Once complete, the piece was displayed at the Vancouver Art Gallery for Canada Day, where hundreds of art-lovers came by to witness the work of some of the city’s most vulnerable residents.
Projects with Teens and Adults in the Justice System
Artolution’s Joel Bergner facilitated mural projects and art workshops in juvenile detention centers and a women’s prison in Maryland, as well as working with adolescents in Ohio and New York City who were making the difficult transition back into society after being released from detention. These projects, which featured partnerships with the local NGOs Class Acts Arts, Project Jericho and Artistic Noise, respectively, provided a platform for these participants to explore their life challenges and hopes for a brighter future through collaborative art making. They learned new skills, formed positive bonds with their peers and with adult facilitators, and had the enriching experience of making a positive contribution to their community. In Maryland, inmates made personal works of art, created murals to adorn the walls of the facilities, and painted a canvas mural that was installed in a nearby public library. In Springfield, Ohio, court-involved young people combined poetry, painting and graffiti to make a giant community mural that tackled the critical issue of youth violence and desperation. In Brooklyn and Harlem, recently-released teens spent months creating mixed-media works of art that were then displayed at the annual Artistic Noise exhibition.
Building Bridges in DC
In Washington, DC in 2015, Max Frieder facilitated a community mural project with a group of teenagers from Ward 8, where a bridge was being built to link the economically depressed Anacostia neighborhood with more affluent areas across the river. The project addressed some of DC’s most divisive issues such as gentrification and the city’s economic inequality, and explored ways in which the younger generation could play a role in working toward a more just and equal society. To quote some of our young artists who worked on the project:
“The two sides of the Anacostia, are two sides of the same coin. Yet the sides don’t see each other, and without the bridge, they cannot see the other side. It is symbolic of the bridges of communication which can be built in the future.”
“Almost everyone on both sides of the river perpetuates the barriers, but our mural and this story break down that barrier.”
“The mural is opening a conversation that is a two way-street of acknowledging Washington DC is both Anacostia and Capital Hill. Anacostia is still DC, and can’t be forgotten. Even though it hasn’t been industrialized and gentrified, it is an real part of the country’s capital.”
“People don’t feel welcome on both sides of the River. This bridge will hopefully change that.”
“As teenagers we don’t get the privilege to make an impact on DC. This mural feels like we are changing that.”
Youth with Mental and Physical Disabilities in Newark
In 2011, a group of young people with mental and physical disabilities from an economically depressed of Newark, New Jersey had the summer of their lives: they participated in an intensive 4 –week series of workshops in which they were introduced to artistic techniques and art history, discussed issues important to them and their community, and created their own personal works of art and a public mural. This project, facilitated by Joel Bergner and Newark artist James Wilson, featured a partnership between the JFK school and the local arts organization City Without Walls (cWOW). The teens worked on the mural design and painted a series of abstract art panels, which were then incorporated into the main imagery of the piece and installed on a building façade along a busy commercial corridor of Newark.
The New Jersey State Council on the Arts awarded the project the 2012 Innovator’s Award. The project was innovative in that it included many techniques developed specifically for teens with physical and mental disabilities, many with limited motor skills. An incredible art therapist from the JFK school worked with Joel and James, introducing them to her “helmet- paintbrush” invention that allowed participants to paint with their head if they could not control their hands. In the creation of the abstract art panels, the strengths of each student was utilized. Some painted in a wild and free manner, so they worked on the background. Others were more detail-oriented and created the foreground expressions and figures. As most cannot walk, the facilitators came up with “wheelchair-painting” which involved wet paint, plastic sheets and, of course, wheelchairs, which the participants rode over the plastic to make a variety of designs in the canvas. The kids and adults alike had a moving experience and it was quite emotional when the time came to say good-bye!
Artolution artists have facilitated dozens of other projects across the United States, including communities in Colorado, Rhode Island, Illinois, California, New York, Utah, Maryland and Ohio. Thanks to all the artists, educators, organizations and foundations who have made this work possible!