Article by Curtis Driscoll, firstname.lastname@example.org
The mural project is a partnership between the Arts Council of Mendocino County Get Arts in the Schools Program and Juvenile Hall as a way to provide an artistic outlet for kids, while they learn employment-related skills.
Local artist Danza Davis and incarcerated kids at the Mendocino County Juvenile Hall in Ukiah have completed a mural in the interior courtyard that shows the beauty of the environment within inland and northern Mendocino County.
The mural project is a partnership between the Arts Council of Mendocino County Get Arts in the Schools Program and Juvenile Hall as a way to provide an artistic outlet for kids, while they learn employment-related skills. According to the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, arts engagement has been proven to reduce recidivism, with therapeutic effects for at-risk, justice-system-involved youth.
During the mural process, Davis helped the kids brainstorm ideas about what could be on the wall and provided guidance during the planning process. The project focused on inland and northern Mendocino County and what animals and habitats are unique to the area. The kids also got to use a digital art program to help them come up with a composite of a design they would be interested in completing. From there, they worked on dividing the wall into grids and painting it section by section.
“I think the idea that they were beautifying a space was important to them, and they recognized that,” Davis said. “There were kids who said ‘look, we are doing this and it’s going to be here forever,’ and it was really exciting to them.”
The mural, 29.5 feet long and 9.5 feet high, features a typical summer in Northern and Inland Mendocino County, including oak and fir tree habitats and an open meadow. Elk, bear, lizard, jackrabbit, turkey vultures, monarch and swallowtail butterflies, fisher-martin and Northern flicker appear throughout the mural. Local plants like the California poppy, native lupines, soap root and poison oak also are shown.
Because many of the students had different levels of experiences, part of Davis’s work focused on making sure that students of all art backgrounds felt comfortable in painting parts of the mural and feeling like they were creating something unique.
“Honestly, the hardest part was convincing them that you really can participate and don’t be intimidated because you have never painted before,” said Davis. “You should really just try it and find out there is a lot of joy to be found in painting and with guidance you can come to a result people can appreciate.”
Assistant Chief Probation Officer Doug Carver says he has heard from parents of kids who worked on the painting that it has reinvigorated their artistic spark and made the kids want to continue to work on art beyond just the project.
“It just showed them that they had the creativity in them, and that’s what I think was so neat about the project,” said Carver. “Danza was able to bring that out to them whether it was doing the computer program during the design or whether it was the actual mural application. It certainly opened their eyes to a little bit of broader horizons.”
Because many of the participants transitioned in and out of Juvenile Hall during the project, kids wrote their experiences in a journal so that new kids who came in to work on the project would understand the origins and all the work the previous kids had done. The journal also helped catalog all the completed steps of the project.
Juvenile Hall manager Brady Bechtol said that the idea of having murals originated a couple of years ago to clean up the area and create a more positive feel. They hope to have a mural on each panel in the courtyard that represents a different district in Mendocino County, although they have to wait and see if the Mendocino County Board of Supervisors plans on keeping Juvenile Hall open.
Despite initial reluctance to participate, Bechtol says many students end up realizing that participating in programs like painting, gardening and yoga can be therapeutic and enjoyable once they open up to it.
“They have a huge sense of pride,” Bechtol said. “They try to be cool and tough in front of their friends, but when you are alone with them and walk by, they are super excited they created this.”