The Opposite of Purple | Michael B. Schwartz

“It’s sizzling” smiled Ray at the mural site the other day. 106 degrees in the shade and our mural crew is on it. When it’s too hot to paint we hit bookstores, go to the studio to mix paints, meet in the homes of elders, coffee shops, or with our dance-theater crew. We are working on a number of projects, inside and outside this summer. Last week it was installing Sol LeWitt’s “Wall Drawing #960” at the University of Arizona Museum of Art, this week we are preparing for a “live art” demonstration at a local rave. We meet daily for three to eight hours, usually taking weekends off, but not always. It’s a small and dedicated group of talented young artists, many in trouble with the law, but all share a passion for creating beautiful works of public art.

The summer has barely started and desperate parents from throughout Arizona are calling to see if they can enroll their kids in our program.  The pleas are all similar to this one:  “My son was just arrested for pot, but he’s a really good artist.” Our formal program was not funded this summer despite numerous attempts, proposals and grants, perhaps that’s the risk of innovation. As a result, I’ve had to turn away dozens of deserving youth.

While the economic and political environment on the state level has been less than encouraging, the local scene is offering much more encouragement and hopes for sustainable funding sources for our program. At our last mural unveiling Tucson Mayor Jonathan Rothschild spoke to the success and power of the Tucson Arts Brigade. Our local paper, the “Arizona Daily Star” ran a front page story, unheard of for a teaching arts organization, and “Inside Tucson Business” featured an article by former city council woman and community leader Carol West.

Maybe the heat is getting to us, but the youth and I consider ourselves to be pioneers in a new global Renaissance. Our attitude has been that despite adequate funding we will work harder, smarter and faster — prove ourselves to our audience, become better artists, craftspeople and leaders. Next summer our hidden investors will appear!

As we work on our mural in Haggerty Park people come by to take photographs and shower us with compliments. The homeless people are talking about blending colors while doodling in the journals we leave on tables. I ask one of my students, in trouble for tagging, if he is familiar with complimentary colors. He makes a few guesses. I stand on a bench and ask everyone in the park – “What is the opposite of purple?” The next hour is spent chattering about the color wheel and doodling values.

Back at the office news comes in that we are on for a fun, legal, safe but really loud rave. There will be thousands of youth there, our crew will do several live painting demonstrations. They promise us a cut of ticket sales. There is cold water in the fridge.

It’s early evening, the summer heat has started to ease. One of the elders calls to say she loves me, that I am making a difference in our community and the lives of these youth and their families – and to hold on. It’s like an angel whispering in my ear and I get goose bumps. I sleep well knowing that the world might be going to hell, but at least everyone in Haggerty Plaza knows the opposite of purple is yellow, and we will all be smiling about that as we drift to sleep. 

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