THE BLOG
11/01/2013 08:37 am ET | Updated Jan 23, 2014

Up Against the Wall, Community Healing and Public Art

Prescott, a quaint town surrounded by forests and mountains in Northern Arizona, has seen its fair share of national publicity in recent years. In 2010 the town was caught in the crossfire of a bitterly heated national debate about immigration which erupted over a public mural on a local school. Most recently the small town was rocked to its core with the loss of 19 of their brave young firefighters in the Yarnell fire. In the ashes of tragedy and division comes an opportunity for deep healing.

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View of Sunset from Downtown Prescott, Courtesy of Jessi Bruget

They call it "Preskitt" and it's known for its rodeo, its perfect climate, its down-home feel, its natural beauty, Whiskey Row Saloons, UFO sightings, Victorian architecture, cowboy poets, and one of the finest opera houses west of the Mississippi. Prescott has a proud history of being conservative. Barry Goldwater and George W. Bush launched their presidential campaigns on the steps of the Historic Territorial Courthouse. Pre-dating its conservative history the town was known for its brothels, cowboys dressed as indians called Smoki, underground tunnels, as well as many other strange and beautiful oddities associated with the days of the old west. Now it rests somewhere between the two extremes. It's not too different from any other small town but it's unlike any place you have ever been.

It is regularly listed in national magazines as one of the top places to retire, and was once mentioned in USA Today as one of the nations top 10 small towns for art. It's no wonder that the housing boom caused the population of this town to jump 60 percent in 15 years from 1990 to 2005. Each new resident brought with them their own ideas about community, about art, and lifestyle.

Many of the newcomers were opposed to all the development during the height of the boom. In 2000, a small group of artists decided to establish a public mural that told the local history along Granite Creek. It was meant as an offering to the town. It was meant as way for the local community to assert their love for Prescott's colorful past while reminding newcomers to respect its history and preserve its natural beauty.

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Prescott's "Art for All" Mural

The mural campaign took off over the next years with the establishment of The Mural Mice. Local students and community members participated in the creation of each mural. The Mural Mice developed a theater company as the self-funded campaign became more deeply integrated with education, history, and lore. Students researched the local species of plants and animals developing a natural appreciation and pride for their home. This went on for many years and was warmly received by the community at large.

Then the economic crash hit and immigration became a central theme in national politics. Local officials refused to allow the census to fly a banner written in Spanish, ICE (Immigrations and Customs Enforcement) were raiding Hispanic neighborhoods late at night, and Minutemen began showing up where Mexican day-laborers met for work in the mornings. SB 1070 was introduced and the polarization in the country as well as Prescott had reached an all-time high.

In 2010 The Mural Mice had decided to weave the theme of "diversity" into a local mural that was originally intended to focus on safe routes to school and all hell broke loose. The national media seized the controversy and the rest is history. The complexities of the situation were bypassed in the media coverage while a small town, a school, mural artists, and city government were caught in the crossfire. The public arts initiative died, and the murals stopped.

I have always believed that art has the power to heal and we all know that sweeping things under the rug doesn't make them go away. So in 2011 I set out to make a film about public art in hopes to share all sides of the story locally as it relates to the turbulent times of our nation. A healthy democracy needs respectful public discourse, and the media tends to only focus on disparities. With the intention to focus on the beauty of public art, and a desire to bring healing, I knew that the controversy was an unavoidable part of the story.

As we entered the final stages of the film, one of the worst tragedies in Prescott history hit. When you lose 19 young men in a community this small, everyone feels it. The words "Prescott Strong" became a local mantra and there was a sense of unity for the first time in a while. The love and support that came from the rest of the country was unlike anything that this town had ever seen.

As I prepared to launch my last fundraising push on Indiegogo, famous artists from across the country began sending me signed art prints in support of the project. The paintings center around the themes of transformation, healing, and regeneration from Visionary Artists like Amanda Sage, Xavi Panneton (who spent his teenage years in Prescott), Carey Thompson, Mark Henson, Chris Dyer, Jessica Perlstein, and many others that are listed in my recent blog. Beautiful art, just like tragedy can bring one to their knees and call on us to dig to the deepest part of ourselves for healing and strength.

The Indiegogo campaign launched in late September and there was little response. I was upset to find myself in a familiar place of feeling the financial pinch to fund yet another creative project out of my own pocket, yet I understood why. People in Prescott love public art but nobody wanted to touch the subject. The community has suffered from the poor economy, recent controversies, and the loss of The Hotshots to wild fire.

While working on Taking it to The Streets a few days ago, a friend sent me a link from a local newspaper. Mural Honors Granite Mountain Hotshots and Protectors "What!", I thought, "a new mural in Prescott?"

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Granite Mountain Hotshots Mural

Today I dropped by and caught Juliana Hutchins, who is not a Mural Mouse, as she painted The Hotshots Mural. My eyes welled up with tears when I saw it. I was overwhelmed with emotion. We talked about art, local politics, the recent mural controversy and she was well aware of the significance of her work which will be unveiled on November 16th.

Though there are many sides to the controversy, I am reminded that each one of us is powerful yet vulnerable. A larger force moves through all of us and true art is merely a reflection of that. Forgiveness brings healing.

This short blog barely scratches the surface of the subject matter, the film will take it deeper. We are in the final days of our Indiegogo Fundraising campaign, which ends on Wednesday, November 6. Your support will help us tell this important story and illuminate a larger discussion about the value of public art. You might just walk away with a gorgeous signed art print from an epic Visionary Artist!

Watch the trailer below, join the conversation, share this with your friends and check out some of my recent posts. A better world is possible!

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