Teen-age artists see mural as a way to give back to the community

Several Lawrence teen-agers are using their artistic abilities to give back to the community.

Seventeen apprentice-artists in the Van Go JAMS program are painting a large mural on the hallway leading to the child and family services wing at Bert Nash Community Mental Health Center, 200 Maine.

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Scott McClurg/Journal-World Photo

Tyler Swaggerty, right, works on the mural at the Bert Nash Community Mental Health Center. Swaggerty, a senior at Lawrence Alternative High School, and other members of the Van Go JAMS program are creating the mural as a gift to the Lawrence community.

"In giving, you gain something," said Asja Eckertson, a 16-year-old student at Lawrence Alternative High School. "It's nice to work with other people. It teaches me patience and acceptance. And it teaches me about my own (art)work."

The acrylic mural, measuring 88 feet by 7 feet, is an eight-week collaborative project between the Bert Nash center and JAMS, which stands for Jobs in the Arts Make Sense and is an arts-based employment program for at-risk teens in Douglas County.

One of the first steps involved in creating the mural was a meeting between the teens and Bert Nash representatives to talk about ideas for the mural, according to Jim Lewis, program director for JAMS.

The teen-agers learned about the services offered at the mental health center and brainstormed and researched ideas for the mural's narrative.

A common thread of healing, safety and transformation started to emerge for the mural, which they titled "Life Changes."

"Early on, the kids came up with the idea of seasons and changes," said Kansas City painter Joe Faus. He and Lawrence artist Cathy Ledeker are serving as lead artists for the project.

Faus said the first panel of the mural depicts the balance in life between the unexpected and harmful, such as volcanoes, and the expected, such as bright sunlight.

The second panel depicts spring, or an awakening, and shows a young child who is born with no illusions about life. As he begins his journey, the child is protected by fairies, or the Earth's guardians.

The summer panel, with features more mature colors, represents adolescence. The figure in the panel is ambiguous: An eye is painted on his hands and puzzle pieces appear on his body, symbolizing the possibilities that lie ahead.

The fall panel shows a humanlike figure made of fallen leaves who is helping a person heal his wounded heart.

The images symbolize how a person faces life's tribulations, picks up the pieces with the help of others and goes on living.

The final panel, referring to winter, shows an old man who is reaching out to a young child. Their connection represents a beginning, or a rejuvenation.

One of the project's goals is to create a sense of pride among the teen-agers for their artistic accomplishment and their contribution to the community.

"It feels good that we are helping others," said Asja, who had never participated in a Van Go project.

"If they do another mural, I would like to do that again."

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