Saturday, November 27, 2010

Giving Thanks for Community Arts Network in a Time of Innovation

This is the time to give thanks. I want to give a special thanks to the Community Arts Network (CAN). The site was archived not long ago, and will no longer be publishing new works. It was a terrible loss for many in the field. Art in the Public Interest/ CAN emerged from Linda Frye Burnham and Steven Durland’s work on High Performance Magazine (1978 - 1997). Thanks to the Open Folklore project (a joint effort of the Indiana University Libraries and the American Folklore Society) the CAN site has been archived, so we have a great encyclopedia of resources to draw upon.

We live in the Sonoran Desert, so this is winter garden time. We water new seedlings daily until their roots are strong enough to be transplanted to our specially prepared garden beds. As the plants grow we water them less and less, allowing for their roots to grow strong and reach deep into the soil.

Loosing CAN left me feeling transplanted, exposed. How will community artists and cultural workers inspire, dialogue and report back to one another? Many of us in the field simply can’t afford to fly around to conferences. We are not connected to large institutions, foundations or trust funds. Our base of support tends to be the community itself, and in times of economic despair, innovation is key to our survival. During these times our roots sink deeper into our neighborhoods where we are nurtured and watered.

Community animators play a unique roll in civilization. We have been here throughout human history, in various manifestations, the Griot, Kokopelli, Blogger. We work with neighborhoods, community centers, schools, hospitals and prisons, providing a place for people to advance their humanity, to tune into their emotions, their community and the environment. We work with groups of people to breath new life into forgotten or neglected places. It’s here in the grassroots we find the innovators, the experimenters, garage and basement cultures that have always produced the great art of the day. When larger and more powerful organizations appropriate ideas, concepts and movements it wipes the slate clean for those in the grassroots. It’s a benchmark, a sign of growth and success.

A friend of ours recently met with a community foundation. The guy she met with was very nice, and fond of her organization. He was familiar with the language and concepts of Community Cultural Development (CCD), but not with CAN or any of the hundreds of CAN writers who have joyfully labored in the field over the past 50 years. He coolly explained that the foundations resources would be distributed to several larger groups, and perhaps she could “collaborate” with them. My friend went on to contact each of the larger groups. The funds would be used to study “gaps” in programming. As she shared this story we joked about how not to become part of that gap!

So as the language, strategies and tactics of our movement have been appropriated, those with resources have figured out how to prevent resources from filling an ever widening gap. And this seems to be a national trend.

The fall out is that millions of young people are going without arts education, millions more are deprived of the ability to define the culture or cultures of their choosing through community theater, installations, orchestras, community writing and poetry projects.

There are many schools of thought on this issue as CCD expands beyond traditional art forms. These ideas are being discussed among communities of artist, teachers and scholars worldwide.

Artists and Scholars in Public Life meets annually with dozens of workshops and presentations to participate in. The National Guild for Community Arts Education also meets annually in various locations around the country. The US Social Forum is a massive open space for artist activists with a free wall, children's art village and my favorite the “Creativity Lab” . Alternate Roots hosts a five day gathering that is packed with youth centered programming, open space, fantastic workshops and time to organize. The 35th Anniversary ROOTS Fest 2011: Many Communities, One Voice, will be June 22-26, 2011 in West Baltimore, MD.

The landscape for CCD has changed since 2004, when Art in the Public Interest Published The State of the Field of Community Cultural Development: Something New Emerges, by Linda Frye Burnham, Steven Durland and Maryo Gard Ewell. For example in Australia there is an interesting debate about the effectiveness of CCD. Phoebe Coyne has written number of interesting articles, including “Community Cultural Development Is So Last Century”.

I'm not sure if that's the case, but I do know that for the past 32 years Linda Frye Burnham and Steven Durland worked tirelessly to keep us connected, informed, inspired and thinking about these issues. And for that I am deeply thankful.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Murals, Democracy and Arizona

Arizona is an interesting place, and as most of the world now knows, the struggle for cultural democracy is in full swing. In almost every town and city we find an attempt to define our collective cultural identity as the Arizona centennial fast approaches.

One example of this struggle is a mural painted in west Phoenix entitled “Mural of Unity” The 400 foot mural has been painted, tagged and repainted several times.
Some call the work graffiti – others see it as a visual representation of the human rights struggle revolving around SB 1070. The mural originally featured McCain and Obama, as well as local celebrities. Now artists want to change the mural to depict the immigration controversy. The mural controversy tells a complex story about life in Arizona at this moment.

I first learned of this controversy from a fellow attendee of the South West Arts Conference (SWAC) hosted by the Arizona Commission on the Arts (ACA). The conference took place at the Chandler Center for the Arts against the backdrop of draconian cuts to the ACA and the tragic murder of a much loved Chandler Police Officer Carlos Ledesma . Also killed were two suspects, apparently active in the local music scene. On the first day of the conference massive state wide anti SB 1070 protests erupted statewide, as thousands of human and civil rights activists took to the streets, even dramatically blocking I-19 .

The gathering of mostly arts administrators never formally touched on these issues, foregoing open space discussions. I understand to some degree. Those of us working in the public eye seek to be inclusive of all, to transcend differences, to stitch together a tapestry that represents the full diversity of the places we live, work and play. Still I felt a disconnection between the events of the day and building a sustainable future for the arts in Arizona.

Meanwhile murals of President Obama are being defaced nationwide. Atlanta, GA and Houston, TX are two examples. In Brooklyn, NY a mural of President Obama was defaced due to a different form of politics between the artists. This brings up the question of civic responsibility among artists, and the struggle between free expression and public space.

This is the ideal time to bring people together to dialogue about issues and using the arts to transcend differences. One issue that seems to come up is a sense of civic responsibility – we all belong to a community of people who cherish our freedoms. While some of the artists who created the Mural of Unity want to express their outrage with overt racism, other community members would prefer that the mural undergo a design and review process.

A few say just paint / buff it out. Questions of content, who will pay for the mural restoration and ongoing maintenance, are not so clear. The issue at hand seems to be whose voices and ideas will be amplified on the wall. Once again we can see how murals are a reflection of our democratic process, or perhaps lack there of. As a friend of mine once said – "any time you add a face to a mural you are bound to have some controversy". The dialogue and process surrounding the Maryvale mural reflects the state of democracy here in Arizona, and it will be interesting to see how residents resolve the issue.

One thing I hope artists will learn from this and the now infamous Prescott mural is that these issues should be resolved in the community design process, not after the mural is finished. While this can be an extended and frustrating process, ultimately it is the artists’ responsibility to lead these conversations and create a work of art that reflects the diversity of views that emerge. This is a double-edged sword, and one that can easily result in censorship or boiling down of content. At some point the artist may decide that it’s time to make a statement of principle - one that they will not step down from. I respect that and also accept that the public, or those that commissioned the mural, may not agree. Like all works of public art the artists should be ready for the controversy that may ensue, and embrace it with love and compassion. Mural making can be many things, decoration, wall paper, or social change incarnate. Whatever the motivation muralists reflect the cultures from which they emerge and are brave enough to do so in the public eye.

During my research into this story I discovered a wonderful group called Las Artes de Maricopa, a workforce development through the arts program. The art being produced is a beautiful mix of mosaics with hand painted imagery.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

ARRA Era Murals Part 2

The era of American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) murals is here, now. This is part two of the story of mural-jobs created with ARRA funding and the impact these projects are having. It is important to note that the creation of arts related jobs also means jobs for numerous other people associated with the creation of these projects, ranging from landscape designers, builders and cement technicians to engineers.

Santa Cruz, CA

The City of Santa Cruz has long understood the value of building cultural capital. They have created 15 murals so far through their redevelopment Mural Matching Grant program . It’s an intelligent move as they point out:

“Murals contribute to the overall success of the Redevelopment Project Areas through the creation of historical identification, district identification and unification as well as generally enhancing commercial areas and creating a “sense of place.” Exterior wall murals provide the added incentive to property owners of reduced graffiti as “taggers” tend to bypass walls on which murals have been painted and contribute to a graffiti free Santa Cruz.”

I found several examples of murals in Santa Cruz that capture the spirit of the day, a sense of excitement about a positive future that is lurking in the zeitgeist. Systems Mural Project is the brainchild of muralist Brian Barneclo and illustrates a holistic approach to mural making.

Brian writes:

“Systems Mural Project will explore the concept of interconnectivity via a 600 foot panoramic mural painted by San Francisco artist Brian Barneclo. Systems are found in nature (the water cycle) and also created by man (the government). What have we learned about sustainable systems? What works and what doesn’t? Should we revisit ancient technologies? Is the Industrial Age over? It is through this conversation that we gain an understanding of perhaps the most complicated systems of all, our systems of belief.”


The Mid-America Arts Alliance (MAAA) has teamed up with the Kansas Arts Commission and the Oklahoma Arts Council to fund two murals led by artist David Lowenstein. Murals are being created in each state. As with many of the ARRA era murals this project is as much about process as the creation of a beautiful final product that engages community. Included are job training, community and civic engagement and giving voice to disconnected people.

These projects will both be happening in 2010 and will give residents direct hands–on experience in the research, design, and execution of major public artworks for their communities. There will be a video documenting the projects, and you can follow progress on the project blog:


The City of Philadelphia continues to be a leader nationally in the area of mural and art jobs creation. They launched a Creative Industry Workforce Grants Program with a half million dollars in year 1. Organizations are creating low cost artists work space, community centers and more.

San Francisco

Digging a little deeper one can find examples of murals as part of an overall development project that will translate into employment for several arts conservationists working in concert with experts in other fields. The City of San Francisco Department of Public Health AIDS Office was awarded 9.5 million dollars over the next 5 years to expand much needed services. They will also bring their facilities up to a LEED silver rating, saving them in utility bills over the long term. Their site at 25 Van Ness Avenue was formally a Masonic Temple built in 1911 and designed by Walter Bliss.

The Ripple Effect

There are several other examples I came across that don’t fall directly under the category of ARRA funds being used to create mural jobs. Each of these agencies did receive ARRA directly from the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA).

Street SmARTS’s

I was not able to verify if ARRA funds were directly used to fund this program. The San Francisco Arts Commission (SFAC) did receive funds via the NEA in the area of literature. I find it relevant in that jobs were created through cross agency collaboration, and are employing sustainable design concepts.

Another job creation through the arts program is in San Francisco. The San Francisco Arts Commission in collaboration with the Department of Public Works realized they were spending millions on graffiti clean up and the problem was only getting worse.

The solution was to match up artists with business owners to create murals. They had the wisdom and vision to create a program that reduces crime, creates jobs, beautifies the city, provides career development and advancement for artists while building cultural capital overall. 2010 is the pilot year, with 17 murals being produced.

New York

Groundswell Community Mural Project is based in Brooklyn, NY. They received direct ARRA funding through the NEA in the area of arts education. Among their many community based cultural development initiatives are the Summer Leadership Institute (SLI). This summer job creation program for 85 youth is broken into six groups who team up with lead artists and community organizations to develop job skills and create a work of public art.

Image: 2008 “New York City is a Rollercoaster”Acrylic on Cement, 600 Sq. Ft on multiple walls.

One common trend among cities using ARRA funds to create arts related jobs is a willingness to collaborate among city agencies. Leadership is key. The projects described here could be duplicated in any city. The best of these projects seek to seed new creative industry – providing one time start up funds that will lead to long-term job growth. One thing is for sure, more and more municipalities are using the arts in their overall job development strategies. These programs produce jobs that have multiple impacts on the quality of our lives and belief in realizing our dreams and collective aspirations for a sustainable, safe and peaceful future.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Murals Hitting a Brick Wall

Recently Destroyed Mural in a Texas School

I’m not sure what going on in Mural-land these days, but there sure seems to be a ton of press of murals hitting a brick wall, if you excuse the expression.

In the mission district of San Francisco muralist Simon Norris ran into a little snag when attempting to paint a community mural over an existing work of art. The story seems to end well in that a collaboration has emerged and everyone learned something about mural etiquette. I have to say, hats off to the artists in this one, for being open to change and modeling a win win solution.

Outside of Houston, Texas, a the school principal had a beautiful 14 year old mural destroyed. Now they want a brand shinny new one. Several parents pointed out that the mural had become an integral part of the school culture and life.

Shifting over to Prescott, Arizona, as widely reported, muralists there were told to lighten up the skin tone of faces in a school mural. "It is being lightened because of the controversy," said Mural Director Wall in an interview by Arizona Republic writer Dennis Wagner. Wall added that "they want it to look like the children are coming into light." Apparently the artists decided not to comply with the school principal’s edict to lighten the children's faces. You can read many hundreds of comments to this story. The story ends well when (almost) everyone acknowledges they made a huge mistake. Nope, no racial profiling here.

Next we go to Boston, MA where the economy is to blame. For the past two years students have been working on the "Strong Past...Proud Future" participatory mural project. Now they have hit a snag, money.

It’s exciting to see the whole person engagement methodology being employed. Now funding has become part of the project itself. So here is a chance for you to participate and experience the power of community arts! Start by clicking here and let's help these youth see their project through!

Murals continue to be a great way to foster community, and national dialogues. As the participatory mural movement expands there are bound to be growing pains. It’s easy to destroy a mural as a knee jerk reaction, and all too often artists don’t know, or simply choose not to deal with the hassle of invoking their rights . On the other hand muralists and organizations make mistakes, and that’s natural, we all do. That’s where elders, teachers and best practices come in. We are not the first generation of muralists to participate in democratic art making. The great thing is is that these elders exist in almost every city large and small. You just have to seek them out.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Week 9-10: Our Mural is Finished

The 4 B's - 8' x 30' © 2010 Wakefield Muralists/ Michael B. Schwartz

Over the past several months students from Wakefield Middle School in Tucson Arizona created a service based mural for their school as part of their 6th period elective under the direction of teaching artist Michael B. Schwartz. What emerged is a beautiful 6’ x 30’ mural for all to see and enjoy in the 6th grade hallway. This project was initiated by Wakefield Middle School teacher Maricella Carranza with the assistance of principal Wade McRae. The theme, and title, of the mural is the 4 B’s; Be Safe, Be Responsible, Be Respectful, Be a Learner. Students artists were Jasmin, Crystal, Monique, Ana Lizeth, Myranda, Ariana, Diana, Carlos, Francisco, Jesus, Gabriella, Mark, Rafael, Wenceslao, Daniel, David, Estrella, Sarahi, Yaritza, Brysenia and Jorge.

Each of the students developed a part of the mural, and then we worked to combine these images into a design we all liked. We see the three flags, Arizona, Mexico and United States behind A Mountain. Surrounding them are images of a heart and butterfly springing out of books. We also see an Azteca temple that descends to a truck that drops off students in front of the school, overseen by a teacher with arms stretched out holding a glass sphere that represents knowledge. She is pointing to another eye, symbolizing what we have yet to learn. We also see a computer with people shaking hands, representing using the computer to forge peace, and below we see a globe next to the Wakefield Knight, the school mascot.

This design had to be approved by a committee that we established before the project started.
The five panelists suggested some minor changes to the design. Once those changes were made we had to learn about scale and proportion. We used a grid to transfer our design. This was a new experience for students, but after several class lessons our design had been transferred. We worked in small groups, dividing the class up between people who worked in the classroom and the mural site. Students in the class worked in acrylics and watercolor, gravitating towards the media that best suited them. Only one or two of the students had worked in acrylics so this was a true exploration of mixing colors, mark making and learning how to create images with this new media. As you can see from these sample paintings students had a great time, and each developed their own personal creative statement.

Throughout this project we had to work as a team. Some clear leaders emerged in this project, and almost all the students had something they could teach to others. “Where were you last year” one student excitedly asked their teaching artist. For a variety of reasons many of these students had not had an art class in many years, and they were thirsty to learn new techniques, about the history of murals and to participate in such a large project.

At the end of the year we had a pizza party and talked about the project. Almost everyone wanted to do another mural, and to see more murals in the community and their neighborhoods. Each student carefully preserved their work in their portfolios and received a drawing journal so they could practice what they learned over the summer. As Crystal said “this mural is going to make people feel better about our school and show the neighborhood we are not such trouble makers. Next year we want to do a mural with Mr. Schwartz in our lunch room.”

This project was made possible with support from the Tucson Pima Arts Council Arts in Education program, the Tucson Arts Brigade and A Whole Lot of People for Grijalva. We thank them for their ongoing support and commitment to arts education and the youth of our community.

Watercolor by Gabriela

View of Mural from the other side.

Reporting Live From Wakefield/ Reporte en Vivo Desde Wakefield

The Wakefield Muralists Spring 2010

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Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Week 7-8: Thoughts on our Mural Program

Our mural - almost finished!

As you can tell we've been working on our mural. In the classroom we have been learning about grid, scale and proportion, painting techniques and basic color theory. All these lessons are essential building blocks for creating a mural.

Here are some quotes from students:

" What I most want people to remember about the mural is that I'm proud of my art and hard work" - Gabriela

"The thing I like most about this program is tat my classmates and I are able to do this mural by ourselves. I want people to remember it was done by middle school students." - Myranda

"In this program we painted, drew, learned how to draw faces, hands, flowers and create value. We also learned about colors like primary and secondary color. What I like most about this program is learning how to paint and draw."

"I joined the mural program because it's fun, cool and we make drawings and paintings and we are doing something other people can see. I think the mural is important because it's represents something good about our school." - Ana Lizeth

"I think it's important to have murals because it helps people build relationships. I can share what I've learned with others and it will help me in expressing my feelings with paintings because pictures speak louder than words." - Jorge

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Weeks 5-6: Painting with the Wakefield Muralists

Work on our mural is rolling along. The design has been transferred to the wall, adjustments and changes have been made to the drawaing part of the process. Next we painted the lines of everything in the mural before stating to add colors to each value shape. (Value shapes are areas of solid color with the lightness or darkness adjusted to describe your subject. So we know value means gradations of light and dark, value shapes are shapes of light and dark colors.)

Since we have so many people painting we pre-mixed the colors and created a color chart that could be used in assigning colors. We also mixed up some new colors on the spot.

Once the value shapes have been painted in we go back and work on adjusting colors, descriptive surface textures, directional lighting and values.

It takes allot of team work to get to every part of the mural.

Back in the classroom we worked on expressive painting and getting used to working with acrylics. A huge part of this is learning to control the paint, staying clean and learning about the differences between painting and drawing. Acrylics are very different from watercolors and require more hands on time. Everyone really took to the open painting, with several students filing their portfolios with colorful expressions.

"What I like most in the program is that we are all working as a group."
- Jorge T.

Students color in their value shapes.

This is what our mural looked like at the end of week 6.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Transfer of Our Design

Here is a pictorial essay of the progress on our mural.

Next, measure a grid ...

...and then we transfer our design to the wall.

It takes concentration to get all the details.

Meanwhile we are also learning about value, and getting used to working with acrylic paint.

Here is part of the wall with the design, next we paint!

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

SPARC returns from El Salvador

Well the times, they are changing. Twenty years ago artists worldwide lifted their paintbrushes in protest of human rights abuses in El Salvador. Artists Against US Intervention in Central America (1984) produced exhibitions, posters and events. Author, PAD/D founder and critic Lucy Lippard was a co-founder of this activism based arts group.

The late 70’s and early 80’s were exciting days for the arts and social change movement, there was a buzz of activity as a new generation of community arts activists came on the scene. The election of Reagan in 1980 marked a sudden change for artists. The elimination of CETA resulted in thousands of arts organizations disappearing. The clowns, murals, celebrations and theater arts that had animated the rural and urban communities of our childhood suddenly disappeared. At the same time US policy in Central America shifted to become much more militaristic, with US military advisers being sent to places like El Salvador.

Now, 26 years later President of El Salvador is asking for forgiveness for complicity in the killing of Salvadoran Archbishop Oscar Romero. Mural artist and teacher Judy Baca recently returned from El Salvador after completing a series of murals at the invitation of the US Embassy and the mayor of San Salvador, the tiny nation's capital city. The murals are part of a tourism initiative, but also represent a distinct change in the use of the arts as a tool of US foreign policy.

It's an exciting change, and the murals created are absolutely beautiful, well worth a visit to beautiful El Salvador.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Mural Poems About Our School Community

By Mark M

White and blue

You know

It’s school.

Fun Sunny Days.

Life is great.


Fly and no flies.

By Yomira B.

Books are

Good resources

For reading

Also in a book

You can find

A lot of




The Cars

by Carlos G.

Cars remind me

of school allot.

My mom always drops me off at

The parking lot.

When I play tops there’s always

Cops. When I get in trouble

I can make a fround, but then

I look around.

Los Libros

By  Sarah R.

When I think of my school I think of learning, because I love writing.

I thought a book with a pencil would have been a good idea.

When I see it with the other drawings it would look nice.


Transferring Our Ideas to the Mural Design


By Jasmine A

Recycling makes the world more clean, and it makes the grass and trees more green. You can recycle glass and cans, but it’s hard work so you’ll need a fan. You could give your old to a charity shop if they don’t fit you anymore. Kids or adults can recycle, oh yes you can recycle your old bicycle.

Earth Needs Peace

By Adriana C.

In my home sweet home.

You head bombs and gun’s

War has begun by now

You look or come from

Thousands of people die because

Earth has no peace.

Earth needs peace for us

To be friends with everyone.



By Myranda

Peace is about equality

Peace represents harmony,

Peace also represents respect

Peace can be allot of different things.


Reading a Book

By Diana

Reading a book is fun.

It’s helpful for everyone.

You can learn by reading

A book.

You can study with it.


Mexican Flag

By Rafael

The Mexican flag is cool

Americans say it’s a fool

I say the Mexican Flag rocks

They say it sucks,

Then I call all Mexicans

To make friends up.

Love poems

By AnaLizeth

I love my friend she

Went away from me

There is nothing more to

Say my love poem ends

Soft as it began I love

My friend.


My School

By Crystal

The sky is pretty,

The starts are bright,

I love the world

and also night.

My friends and I have fun

All day at school.


 Priming Our Wall

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Beautiful Collage Works by Student Artists

These beautiful collages were created by the Wakefield Muralists as part of our design process, and lessons on the basic elements of design.

These basic elements include:

- Balance
- Repetition
- Unity and Variety
- Contrast
- Movement
- Emphasis
- Scale (proportion)
- Harmony
By Crystal

By Carlos

By Ariana

By Ana B.

By Diana

By Mark

By Jesus

By Jasmin

By Gabriella

By Myranda

By Rafael

Lots more to come!