Thursday, July 25, 2002
Photo by Randy Tunnell.
Photo: Painting the Past- Ryan Sesma (above) puts finishing touches on the MPC mural (below).
The colorful mural on the south wall of the Student Activities Center at Monterey Peninsula College, though not quite complete, depicts a scene of California citizens celebrating their new statehood. The figures in the mural are gorgeously rendered in bright hues, and the background is a sky full of pastel-tinged clouds hanging over Monterey''s Custom House.
What''s special about the mural is not just its beauty, which is considerable, but the community service it represents.
All over the county, from Moss Landing to Prunedale to Greenfield, 16 large public murals are being painted this summer in eleven cities by youth artists participating in the One Voice Arts and Leadership Program. Run by the federally-funded Office of Employment Training, the mural project began six years ago with 25 teen artists and their adult advisors. Since then, 550 economically-disadvantaged youths have taken part, receiving $6.75 to $8.25 an hour for their work, along with valuable job skills. Like the Employment Office itself, which tries to help people with employment difficulties, the mural project gives teens-at-risk a head start by offering them job training and artistic employment for the summer.
"We aim to change lives as well as landscapes," says executive director Joseph Werner. "We try to stress the inextricable interconnectedness of all living things. Our benchmark is to help people see the importance of creativity."
What is somewhat remarkable about Werner''s involvement in the mural project is that he is blind. He can only witness the beauty going on around him vicariously, though the descriptions of others, but one can hear in his voice and see on his face that he is excited about these projects and the opportunities they present.
"Our program is being replicated all over," he claims proudly. "It''s the largest employer of youth on the Central Coast." Added to a budget of $6 million from the federal government (through the Workforce Investment Act) the One Voice program has received $11 million from local and state governments. "Even with serious budget issues, our programs continue to grow and prosper," says Werner.
While the murals are designed and painted largely by the young artists employed by the One Voice program, each mural has a scheduled "community paint day" where local officials and the general public are invited to stop by, pick up a paintbrush and pitch in. Being at one of the paint days is an experience unto itself. At the MPC paint day last week, adults in spotty overalls assist visitors in painting the vines around the border of the mural, and coloring in the bright poppies. One photographer snaps a picture of Joseph Werner painting a few strokes. Passerby Larry Ransom, dressed in his MPC cop uniform, describes the work as "immaculate." One young artist, Daniel Cherny, says, "It''s better than sitting behind the desk all summer. I''m having fun." Fellow painter Ryan Sesma agrees, "The mural is fascinating. It brings color to the eye when people walk by." And Ryan''s brother, Jason, adds; "The kids have come together for their community. There''s love here."
As well as the mural painting program, the Office of Employment Training offers apprenticeships in drywall, carpentry, masonry, the arts, and leadership skills. "We want to show people their options," says Werner. He hopes to be able take over some of the abandoned buildings and available property at the former Fort Ord military base, to expand the Office''s operations.
For now, they have branches scattered around the Peninsula to assist those who want or need extra training or education, or who just want to peruse some of the 1,500 jobs they have listed. In a country where poverty is a very real issue, and in a county where economic barriers are in evidence, a program that is working to help people get jobs is a special thing indeed.
The public is invited to the following One Voice Arts and Leadership Community Paint Days, from 10am to 1pm: 7/25 at the Greenfield public library; 7/26 at Interior Concepts and the San Pablo Bakery in Seaside; 7/29 at La Gloria Elementary School in Gonzales; 7/31, Moss Landing Middle School; 8/2, the Giant Artichoke in Castroville; and 8/6 at Mike''s Pizza and Soledad Furniture in Soledad. Call 796-3313 for more information.