Amphi Mural Design: Reaching Community Consensus | Michael Schwartz

Currently I’m teaching at Woods Memorial Library, situated in the Amphi neighborhood in midtown Tucson. The after school program for middle and high school youth was requested by the local neighborhood association as a way to build capacity, reduce crime and hopefully foster new leadership. Amphi is one of the highest crime areas of our city, with 3.3% of all crimes reported (Tucson Police Department crime statistics 2011). Amphi also boasts the second highest amount of criminal tagging (criminal damage) and the highest amount of juvenile violations overall. The focal point for much of the violence is along Yavapai Road. So, to kick off a multi-year campaign to beautify the street and build community interaction it was decided this should be the location for the first mural.

Today’s class was abuzz with excitement. Youth started showing up early, eager to move forward with our project after receiving a round of applause and unanimous approval from our local Tucson Pima Arts Council Public Art Design Review Committee. Since our mural is on the exterior of a County owned building, this is the process used to obtain permission for public arts projects.

Our theme today is gesture. After looking at some slides of gesture drawings and paintings we launched right into a journal assignment where one student became the eyes, the other the hand, and we drew a simple still life. This is a really fun and simple icebreaker assignment, and fits well into a discussion about hand eye coordination, and the tension created between the hand and eye as we create art.

Our next lesson included a series of timed gesture drawings. We talked about why this was important, especially when creating a mural, since we are using our entire body to paint. We also talked about the relationship of gesture, intuitive drawing and the principles of design. Gesture drawing can help us become tuned into our natural design sensibilities and reduces the time for self-censorship. Finally we created a sustained gesture drawing. Each week we will continue a fifteen minute version of this drawing practice before resuming work on the mural.

Having finished our mural design the painting has started, but a number of recommendations came in from the community. We decided that the tree with dancers and religious icons would become an indigenous tree, our Palo Verde, and the symbols would include our state flower, bird and other icons.

Our goal was to integrate these ideas into our design. We have been using a consensus based decision making process which provides youth an opportunity to practice their group-organizingskills. We selected two facilitators: a “scribe” and a vibes watcher/time-keeper. From here I really got to sit back. I turned my curriculum over to the facilitators while guiding the process as needed. This happens to be an exceptionally smart group of kids so for the better part of the next hour I was a participant. We played a game called 7-Up, you might know it – where we put our heads down and voted thumbs up or down, and the youth all had so much to say, scribbling notes while pinching their lips and eagerly waiting for their turn to talk.

The time-keeper noted we had fifteen minutes left in class. The facilitators closed the meeting and read our reflection assignment: to write a one-page description of the mural including the changes we had voted on so far. The scribes agreed to assemble and edit the writings into a single mural description.

As you can imagine, we are all excited for next week’s class!

This project is made possible in part by a grant from the Tucson Pima Arts Council IV P.L.A.C.E. Initiative grant funded by The Open Society Institute

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