By: Joanne Tawfilis, Co-Founder of the Art Miles Mural Project
As Marilyn Huerta from the San Marcos Arts Council (SMAC) shared,
“It was a magical collaboration between Mountain Shadows Outreach, The Art Miles Mural Project, California State University San Marcos (CSUSM) Tukwut Leadership Circle (TLC) and San Marcos Arts Council!”
Marilyn’s eyes were filled with tears as she watched interactions between university students and developmentally disabled adults who literally worked hand-in-hand in an intensive effort to create a 48 x 12 foot wall mural on canvas.
At least two dozen CSUSM TLC students have been coming to the Mt. Shadows facility during the semester as a means of gaining leadership experience that has now offered so much more. The clients’ smiles and joyful sounds radiated throughout the facility as Santa Ana winds brought a summertime atmosphere during a California winter, that didn’t seem to cool down the warmth of meeting new friends. Students became aware of how disabled and special needs people, many in wheelchairs, thoroughly enjoy creative community activities as they helped them add brushstrokes to the larger-than-life mural depicting clients’ activities with the help of an amazing and caring Mt. Shadows staff.
“Kenny”, a client at Mt. Shadows has taken on the role of Art Director from his wheelchair, sporting a cowboy hat pointing out the need to “paint more yellow” to fill in certain spots and waited all week for “Chris” to come from CSUSM to work with him. Right next to him was “Andy” with paintbrush in his mouth attached to special head gear smiling broadly as CSUSM international student “Najib” helped him move the brush with red paint onto the heart shape on the canvas.
Further down the line of students, “Johanna” worked with several college women painting purple and mauves as “Josh” worked his brush on the outlines around the sketch of the blue Mt. Shadows transport bus.
Throughout the afternoon, students’ enthusiasm was vivacious and energetic, excited to work one-on-one with clients who were lined up in their wheelchairs anxiously waiting their turn to add more color to the mural. And 10 year old Art Miles Peace Paint Ambassador Alena Ruiz photographed and videotaped the entire process! It was that instant partnering and camaraderie that brought Marilyn to tears.
After creating more than 4,000 murals like this,
“It all begins with networking and it’s not about the mural, it’s about the process,” says Joanne Tawfilis, Co-Founder of the Art Miles Mural Project.
She recruited teammate and talented artist/Peace Paint Ambassador Cecilia Linayo to lead the effort, but it was Marilyn who connected with Shannon Nolan who connected with Arlene Galvon, Mt. Shadows Development Director, who connected with students, who now have connected with staff and more importantly, the clients of Mt. Shadows to bring the entire project together!
“My husband, Fouad and I have dedicated the past 20 years with our UNA USA San Diego project working with over one-half million people from more than 100 countries, some of them disabled and residing in hospitals, refugee camps and institutions in their quest to create twelve miles of murals on canvas. We have seen murals painted by adults and children with their feet, or with no arms and legs with a brush in their mouth, or with the blind by adding the scent of the color to the paint and by painting on canvas, it made it possible for disabled clients to be enabled and offer them the opportunities to participate in wondrous activities like this. (And many thanks are attributed to Tara Art Materials who contributed the canvas to make it all happen).”
Art Miles has worked closely over the past years with the San Marcos Arts Council, CSUSM programs, and communities throughout San Diego County, creating scores of murals in response to natural and human disasters throughout the nation and the world ranging from hurricane and typhoon disasters to tragedies like Sandy Hook, the Prescott Fires, Ft. Hood, the South Korea ferry boat sinking and, most recently, the Peshawar attacks in Pakistan.
“The interactions of working with Mt. Shadows staff, the artists, and the clients; some in wheelchairs, a few with paintbrushes in their mouth, was indeed a heartwarming experience. The clients’ smiles and joy of meeting new friends and adding brushstrokes to a mural that depicts their lives and activities can only be described as special for all community members who have a “special need” to encourage understanding, collaboration and respect in our world that is filled with so much conflict, controversy and confusion.
For more information, visit www.artmiles.org.