Sunday, January 22, 2012

Living Our Dreams Creating Our Future

"Living Our Dreams Creating Our Future" ©2011 Nile Livingston
 By Nile Livingston

This summer volunteers and members of the North Philadelphia neighborhoods came together to paint a mural at the Cecil B Moore Recreation Center Playground at 22nd and Lehigh Avenue. This grass roots project began with my childhood friend, Teyona Jackson, who met a group of girls called the P.I.N.K Ladies at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, where she gave educational tours. The P.I.N.K Ladies invited her to their Recreation Center where she felt inspired by the positive energy involved in the youth mentorship program. Interested in pursuing Arts Management, Jackson used this opportunity to engage her skill set. She sent proposals and pull together sponsors of supplies and invited me on the team as Lead Artist.

 This is a prime community mural project: ideas for the design generated from the youth at the Rec Center, community paint days involving the youth, staff, family and others, and a beautiful mural for the neighborhood to see. This is really one to be proud of!”  - Mary Newson
Seeking to build trust and respect with the residents of the area we focused on the use of educational workshops, meetings at the community center, and social networking along with cooperative learning to ensure participation toward this mural’s success. The community’s ideas stimulated discussion and interaction among the neighborhood and a consensus was reached about the mural’s theme. Working with the guidelines to incorporate singer and song writer Jill Scott in the mural who grew up around this area and taped her music video ‘A Long Walk’ in this playground, along with some of the children’s recreational activities at the playground the mural design was brought to life. The images depict active children having fun and feeling safe. I wish to provide the possibility for more people to have pride toward their public art and I appreciate everyone that came out to help build this mural. The wide range of stories, emotions and walks of life I observed converging at the recreation center playground will now have more to admire about their environment. This work of art draws attention to universal human commonalities and helps make sense of our motives and how we relate to each other. 

“Man o man o man, very impressive; An ambitious project” - Parris Stancell 
I became a part of the mural project because I wanted to use this opportunity to learn more by becoming involved in teaching. The key to my philosophy is that we can all use critical thinking to connect and help each other create something larger than ourselves. Reflecting upon my academic career it is clear that many of my mentors have helped develop my ability to create, utilize resources, and articulate ideas. Aspiring toward self improvement, I believe that a good teacher is a good student. My goal for this mural project is to inspire others as my mentors did for me.
“Murals can change neighborhoods and lives -- press on ladies!” - Mary Angela Bock 
Over the course of 14 weeks our education team brought on friends Don Christian Jones, Eve Hall, Kanids Hutcherson, and Lanita Sims as assistant artist and dedicated supporters. This system of students teaching the younger ones was encouraging for us to be able to innovate a way for us to utilize our skills in an uplifting way. With high standards for visual clarity the team mixed a variety of vibrant paint colors and researched efficient use of materials to proceed with mural making. 
Love seeing all the photos and progression of the mural - amazing!!!! Looks like fun too!” - Moira Groves Schwartz

Installing parachute cloth with community power.
Projecting digital figures onto scaled parachute cloth we developed a paint-by-numbers aesthetics in hopes of combing all proficiency levels and increase observations from collaborative learning as various volunteers were be able to tackle more complex problems. We overcame the obstacle of acquiring insurance and funding for scaffolding. Realizing the lack of time and financial resources our prevail was to carefully use tall ladders to help prime and paste the mural onto the 21ft tall by 73ft wide wall. Now that the mural is at its completion I’m excited that they style of the mural is unique compared to murals around Philadelphia. I am inspired at what a small group of dedicated individuals can accomplish.

“I would like to thank all of the Artists and Volunteers who helped create our Master Piece. Thank You so much for dedicating so much of your time, energy and efforts in to this project.” - Nakia Campbell 
After the summer of 2011 many of our team members have branched out across the world to continue their education or return to employment; however we all continue to build new connections in our communities. I am engaged in a film about preparations transgendered folks take as they growing older and I am dedicate more time toward personal art projects which documents a series of character encounters, such as the ‘Church Ladies’ or my current project; ‘People Selling Things On The Side Of The Road’.

Teyona Jackson, Project Coordinator.

Artists Biography

Nile Livingston is an emerging African American contemporary artist working in drawing, web-art, and installations. Born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania in 1988 Livingston received her B.F.A. in Studio Art, at Kutztown University where she focused on sculpture and large metal fabrications. Her mother; an educator, and father; a draftsman, encouraged both of their children to explore various forms of expression such as music, writing and dance.

Always doodling and experimenting with computers, it was not until attending the Creative and Performing Arts High School that Livingston found satisfaction through the visual arts. She began creating art as a way of recording her life, similar to a public diary entry. Livingston became involved in community organizations such as the Mural Arts Program. Art courses at surrounding universities in Philadelphia introduced her to computer graphics and videography. Fascinated by the limitless mediums, she found that each combination provided evidence for narrative art works that address social, environmental, and technological changes.

Livingston continues to juxtapose found materials with intentions of articulating her current experiences as it relates to the world at large. She displays her works to be understood in new contexts and to spark conversations about our overall human condition. Her work is accessible to all people, found on walls of public buildings as well as showcases of interactive new-media-art distributed through the internet. The subjects of her work are as broad as the materials in which she uses to expresses them. Livingston is actively toiling at new creations. “There is so much in our community, society, and civilization to see and learn about, and for that my passions are extremely charged and my art is the by-product of human consciousness.” -

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

West Phoenix Murals of Unity and Diversity

Amidst the backdrop of anti-immigrant legislation, attempts to curb Ethnic Studies  and stunning foreclosure rates a group of Maryvale Neighborhood youth are creating some of the most politically charged murals in Arizona. “Coach” Paco Villagrana has been an inspirational leader of the projects, and is encouraging more murals. He has earned the respect of many people bringing together youth and elders to use the arts as a form of service and beautification while making a statement. 

"Breakfast With Obama. President Obama with Coach Paco"
These murals came about through traditional grassroots democratic means. Neighbors came together to talk. They recruited local artists, voted on the design content, and started painting. Without the support of formal arts institutions or organizations they set about creating murals up to 400 feet long.  In fact cultural institutions have all but ignored this, and most other neighborhood based cultural efforts in the area  deeming them of low artistic merit, and therefore unworthy of support. 

 2011"Gracias to those that never give up, honor our firefighters" 
Without the recognition of these institutions, and the resources they bring, many new immigrants remain neither in the center nor margins of our cultural fabric. The mural became a place to have a voice. It is in these places that true democracy takes place, where conversations about what to put in a mural, or what lot needs cleaning up can become a social networking opportunity. This is what building community looks like.
"Mural of Unity"
When the final Mural of Unity was unveiled it featured many civil-rights leaders, both locally such as Isabel Garcia and well known historical figures such as Dr. Martin Luther King, Cesar Chavez, Robert Kennedy and President Obama.

Invoking such civil rights leaders drew an abundance of controversy. Some neighbors called the murals an eyesore, graffiti or “too much like a ghetto”. A week after the passage of SB 1070 The Mural of Unity was whitewashed. Not long after Coach Paco and neighbors returned, to create The Mural of Diversity. There was a desire among some of the artists and youth to paint unbridled images of a pregnant woman being handcuffed by soldiers. The final mural was toned down a bit, perhaps reflecting the intensity of the neighborhood conflict.

"2011 - Education Not Deportation"
Crime rates in the are have fallen in the past 12 years as immigrant populations increase. Immigrants bring with them the American dream, family and ethics of civic participation and hard work. As more service-based projects are planned the neighborhood is overcoming tensions by working together and getting to know each others stories. With this spirit more murals will undoubtedly appear in the streets of Maryvale. 

"Getting Ready to Paint"