Arizona is a state with a strong and diverse Latino community and an Indian population with a history that goes back over a thousand years. Along the East Coast of the United States, the newcomers from Europe arrived from the east in the early 1600s. In The Southwest, Marcos deNiza along with Estevanico (an escaped African slave), arrived in the current United States in 1539, a half century before British Colonies started in the northeast. Most of the cultural history of the Southwest comes from the Spanish and Indian influence yet, the British version of history is still primarily taught in the schools. In Prescott, Arizona, amidst much political controversy, public art has made national news while sparking an important dialogue about education, Native History, and racism.
In 2001, Elizabeth Newman, wanted to give voice to the Indian stories that have been forgotten through a mural along a local creek. With a group of Mile High Middle School Students, she went door to door asking for old stories, researched at the local Sharlot Hall Museum and asked elders from the local Yavapai Tribe. This created a minor stir as there had been a bit of a divide between the tribe and the local city government, but it was the beginning of a beautiful healing.
Elizabeth enlisted the help of her friend and professional artist R. E. Wall to help with the project. The students research grew into learning not only the cultural history of the land, but also the local plants and animals. The students were asked to sit by the creek alone each day and make journal entries about the thoughts and feelings that came to them when they silenced their minds under the trees. Eventually, pride and respect for the land grew and the students began picking up the trash along the creek, and noticing subtle things like the birds and animals that inhabited the area. All of these influences were then arranged into a beautiful piece of art by Elizabeth and R. E. Wall for the students to begin painting. The center of the mural contains the Yavapai Emergence Story which had never been shared outside of the tribe. See a short video about the creek mural below:
After a greatly successful project and a beautiful new piece of public art in this sleepy town, R.E. Wall took his inspiration for murals and formed The Prescott Downtown Mural Project. You may have heard about it a few years back when it sparked a national controversy and received lots of mainstream press about issues of racism, education and immigration during the SB 1070 battle. If so, you will be happy to learn about a film project called Up Against The Wall, Public Art Indicted
The film, currently in production, tells the story about how public art has the power to bring healing or discord to a community, but always educates and sparks important dialogue. In a democracy that seems to have lost the skills necessary for civil discourse, public art can remind us to see beyond the sensationalized sound-bites and polarized language that keeps us divided. National media coverage of Arizona, a conservative state, often overlooks the diverse cultural, progressive and creative communities. In Prescott, a few pieces of public art made by local students tell a different story while giving their community a stronger cultural and arts identity.
If you are interested in learning more or helping to support this important film, please watch the trailer below and visit their Indiegogo Campaign which ends June 15th, or their website which will contain updates about the project.
Twelve years after the first mural was painted, there is still much controversy about education in Arizona, and which history is allowed or not allowed to be taught in Arizona schools. Meanwhile, a mural sits quietly along the creek with a story to tell and a town is now filled with painted walls that bring tourists to visit, film-makers to document, giving a generation of students something to be proud of.
The views expressed do not necessarily reflect the opinion of Creative Visions Foundation. Personal opinion of the author only.