I arrived here one week ago, today. My facebook status yesterday:
"Flight to Philly: $256. Rent for room in West Philly: $310/mo. Being face to face with my dreams and destiny: priceless."
I'll explain why I feel that way in a minute. For now, let me just say that regardless of life-changing internships, the city is cool. It's big, it's hot, it's diverse, it's loud, it's a HUGE CHANGE coming from Eugene, Oregon. I've made my way through cities before, going to summer programs in Chicago, living in Oakland and going to school in San Francisco, adventuring through L.A on weekends during college. Never been to the East coast though, and the number one difference I've noticed so far, is that things are so OLD! I feel like my neighborhood is a community of castles: decorated down to the last crystal doorknob, painted unexpectedly bold color combinations, each home unique and yet unified with it's neighbors. I love my West Philly neighborhood!
Besides all the new-ness and exploring, what's really getting me, is this internship. All I've had of it so far, was the orientation (we start working on Monday). All it was, was an introduction to the other 14 interns and to the program and organization itself. We played name games. We talked logistics. We filled out tax info. The part that moved me almost to tears, was when the Director of the organization came in, and started talking to us about the programs and how she feels about them. A short run-down of the Mural Arts Program, and what they do:
• They make community murals. This means, they involve the wall owner, community representatives, and the artist, and come up with a design that represents the community or can show the world something about the people in the neighborhood. Then they paint it, usually with people from the community helping as well.
• Art Education: They work in schools with little to no art programs, and make murals together with the students to decorate their school, and/or teach art lessons. (This is what I do with Lane Arts back home.)
• Restorative Justice: They work with inmates, most serving life sentences, and teach art classes. They also work with newly-released prisoners, or people just out of halfway houses, and give them an apprenticeships in carpentry, tile-working, building repair, and other types of work related to large scale city mural making. And it's working. Nationally, about 65% of people go back to prison after getting out. After this program, about 13% go back.
• Behavioral Health: They create studios and artistic hubs within clinics and teach art classes and make murals together. They do this with mental health institutions and rehab clinics - art therapy.
• Porchlight: They work with suicide prevention programs, victims of violence and other at-risk groups, and put an artist in there to help.
It's using ART as an INNOVATIVE tool, to help save the world, basically.
This is Peace Corps-style community development. This is about boosting neighborhood economies. It's building community and self-confidence in school kids. It's giving people in the justice system a way to feel some self-worth and the chance to make something positive with their own hands. It's giving hard neighborhoods a way to claim and be proud of their place in a big city. It's a way of changing things in a smaller, grass-roots type way, rather than through policy or big money. (Peace Corps, Peace Corps, Peace Corps!)
Since getting out of Peace Corps, I've been looking for something like this - a way to combine my art with something bigger. This is what I want to do with my life, and these people are doing it. And I get to follow them around for 2 months! I wanted this internship so badly, I applied twice, getting in the second year I tried. I had ridiculously high hopes for the whole thing, and it's relieving to see that they seem to be all they were cracked up to be.
What I'll actually be doing, is working on one of the community mural projects, under a Muralist working for the organization. It's gonna be a big garden picture, and it's at a pool. SO painting in my bathing suit! :)
I know I'm gushing. It's just that, I feel such a sense of destiny and that I am on exactly the right path. I don't know where it's going to lead me yet, but I know I'm pointed in the right direction. My heart is happy.