It has taken me a while to put my reflections of the Delridge Mural Project into writing, both because I have been busy catching up on the things left undone while I was helping run the project, and because it is impossible to encapsulate the experience into words. But here goes…
The creation of the “Awaken” mural at Youngstown was one of the most collaborative projects I have ever been a part of. I make it a point to involve myself in collaborative projects, so this was no small feat. Truly an incredible community investment.
With an award from the Work Readiness Arts Program (WRAP), funded by the Seattle Office of Arts & Culture and the Seattle Youth Violence Prevention Initiative (SYVPI), we hired professional teaching artists Louis Chinn and Sara Ferguson and worked with SW Youth and Family Services to recruit eight youth participants from SYVPI. We also welcomed artist intern Rico Galvez, formerly a student at SW Interagency Academy at Youngstown. So cool that a former student in our building came back to contribute his artistry to the project.
With our team in place, we set off on field trips to get a sense of the local culture and environment. We visited Camp Long, the Loghouse Museum, the Duwamish Longhouse, and Longfellow Creek, not only because they all sound the same but because they all hold important roles in West Seattle and Delridge life and history. We also visited the Seattle Art Museum (most of our participants’ first time there!), and checked out some public murals in Pioneer Square. The group was most influenced by our experiences at the Duwamish Longhouse, where we heard stories of the Duwamish Tribe, and learned about the pollution and cleanup efforts in the Duwamish River.
Under the guidance of our teaching artists, our youth began incorporating design ideas from the field trips with the 40+ design surveys we received from community members. Along the way, youth practiced drawing, painting, and design techniques. Because this was a “Work Readiness” project, we also continually reinforced important lessons about communication, attendance, punctuality, and teamwork.
Youth presented the final design draft to a panel of community members, with representatives from local nonprofits, the City, and neighbors. The panel unanimously approved the design, and in week three of the project the group began priming, transferring the design grid onto the wall, and beginning to paint the mural.
Every day, passersby were honking and stopping by to offer their gratitude and praise for the young artists. One neighbor asked if she could donate some food and the next day brought by lunches and snacks for the entire group! This kind of ongoing support from the community enlivened our artists, and motivated them to keep working.
Meanwhile, I was hustling for more donations to help make the group’s ideas come to life. Already, we’d received incredibly generous donations of paint and supplies from Sherwin Williams, Rodda, Miller Paint, and Junction True Value. But there were good ideas afoot to make a multi-media mural, so I solicited donations of plywood from Marine Lumber Services and Alki Lumber. In an effort to get donated or affordable printing services, we kept coming up short. Until, late in the game, United Reprographics came to the rescue. They came to Youngstown and picked up our plywood, brought it back to their shop where they printed photos directly onto the primed 4’x8’ sheets of plywood, then cut them out to our specifications with their digitally controlled router, and delivered them back to us. An angel donor, to be sure! Huge thanks to everyone who supported this project through in-kind donations. We certainly couldn’t have made such a mural in such a short time without this backing, and the ongoing support of folks from throughout the neighborhood.
Our lead artist Louis put in a ton of extra time to paint the printed boards and get them wall-ready, and everyone on the team pushed hard through the last week to get things finished in time for the ribbon-cutting ceremony on August 14th, just one month after the project began. The celebration was well attended, with over 50 people gathering to see the final product and congratulate the artists. We were honored to be joined by Cecile Hansen, the tribal elder of the Duwamish Tribe whose image is featured on the mural, and storyteller Blake who shared stories and dances with us at the Duwamish Longhouse and is represented on the mural as a rain-dancer bringing forth a cleansing storm to rinse the city of pollution.
The story of the mural is one of environmental justice, and I am impressed by how much of the design ideas came directly from our youth participants. From left to right, the mural represents nature and native peoples before white settlers, the ensuing pollution of the Duwamish River, a rain dance to bring a cleansing storm to the growing city of Seattle, the dredging of the river by many hands, the diversity of the Delridge community, and finally a return to nature. I commend our young artists for their bold and topical design, now seen by thousands of people every day on Delridge.
Additional gratitude to all of our many volunteers, and to Boeing and individual donors for their financial contributions in addition to the funding from the WRAP grant that made this project possible.
Stay tuned for a video documentary about the project that was filmed and is being edited by youth from RecTech Youth Media Institute, based right across the street from us at the Delridge Community Center.
And if you haven’t witnessed the mural yet first hand, please check it out, and stop on by the Youngstown office and say hello!