Saturday, June 9, 2007

A Boy From the Bronx

An Art Miles Mural Project – Shoes of Hope Story

“Media men” have a certain pose. They stand to their tallest height, cameras and tripods weighing them down, maybe in a little pain, but all the same looking strong and ready, not willing to look as if their tools were a burden. “Media Women” have a different pose. They are usually lagging behind with coils of cable, or talking loudly into their recorders or furiously jotting down notes. Then there are others out there-- fingers pointing, matching clothes, perfect camera skin and hands flailing about in multiple directions as if to point to the air above or in between objects and personalities.

All of that was present as guests began to arrive. Fish people (little children from New York’s Chinatown), scurried furiously to find their space center stage as the wind blew from the East River up and over the slate tiles, ablaze with Ranan Lurie’s “Uniting Painting” and a thousand pairs of hand painted Starbury Shoes skimming alongside in vibrant happy colors and designs containing messages of peace and environmental concerns.

I stood there watching the scene unfold as the UN flag waved with the winds blowing off the shore of the river, sun shining brightly, and only a whisper of a cloud above. A ribbon of color was wound atop and through several levels of stairway and the waving pattern of color fused with the summer light, was actually formed by lines of shoes and the scene was breathtaking. Rainbows of colors brought the Lurie Painting alive, as if each shoe, each painter was inspired by the pathway this painting represented. From the inside of the UN itself, out the building, across the plaza and into and out again from the East River to Roosevelt Island.

Inside the shoes, were special messages tucked deep inside the shoes to children far away, written by those who painted them. The notes were personal and powerful, sharing thoughts of things in common, pain and hurt, of peace, environment and climate change.

I watched with interest how the media men and media women transformed, like ducks in a pond, swimming and paddling furiously following their Matron, shifting right and left, and left and right, to herald the arrival of Bindi Erwin and an ice carved Polar Bear. A throng of school children and the media surrounded Bindi as she and her mother read about environment and appealing for all to join the race to seek help seek resolutions about “Climate Change”. The circle around Bindi grew thicker and wider, until all that could be seen was water from the symbolic bear melting from its iced form into what represented the melting glaciers somewhere far away.

But somewhere on the flagstone surface, outside the high rise buildings and the UN Secretariat, there stood a child from the Bronx. A few days earlier, he had painted a pair of Starbury Shoes, one of a thousand pairs of shoes donated by famous New York Knicks basketball star, Stephon Marbury and today, with his teacher and some members of his classroom, he watched them being placed and aligned along the magnificent Lurie Painting, his eyes following it’s path, blazing with happiness and joy.

Suddenly, from the far left corner, he caught sight of a tall handsome man in a suit, surrounded by a flurry of other young handsome men in suits and a gaggle of security people. It only took about 30 seconds for him to recognize who it was and his happiness and joy simply erupted into a whooping, laughing, giggling utterance of glee, with sounds unheard in this normally sedate and serious place. “Stephon Marbury” himself! His hero, there before him, walking along the plaza, looking at shoes…his shoes! His body tumbled into a somersault,propelled by the sheer joy that burst from his heart and he raced to embrace and hug his hero with all the might his youthful soul could extend. Even the security staff could not react to this “explosion of joy”.

My soul stirred, and suddenly Bindi and the crowd around her were eclipsed by this magical moment of human emotion—from a Boy from the Bronx and a man of goodwill—Stephon Marbury—the giver of the “Shoes of Hope”, a true humanitarian and a man true to a commitment to help kids by being a mentor, a hero, and in my eyes a true kindred spirit.

By Joanne Tawfilis June 9, 2007

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Live Earth Alive In Laguna Beach

Gearing up for Earth Day in a soon to be proclaimed “Earth Trustee City” was magic today! Driving up the famous Pacific Coast Highway 101 to the “Real Laguna Beach” with Richard one of our Art Miles staff was a great way to start the “official welcome to spring”. The fog and haze simply lifted as we swung as we wound through the ribbons of freeway lanes and onto highway 101 as if knowing that we, like spring were en route.

We arrived at th
e Montessori School to find the Director--Deepa already unloading her car, and Charles Michael Murray holding his son Oliver in his arms, seemingly unwilling to hand him over or release him from the closeness of their hearts. If you knew them, you would understand the bond and warmth between them, and the copper colored curly headed boy with big brown eyes, seemed to be just fine with that feeling.

The school was quiet and chilled by the morning ocean air, but I could see the clouds above already beginning to thin like a huge sheer panel of a giant st
age about to introduce an unbelievable symphony. What an incredible school…in one of California’s loveliest cities with the backdrop of the beautiful surf of the Pacific Ocean.

The symphony came in the form of about 50 laughing and smiling children. Little ones with big eyes. Little ones with lots of hair and rosy cheeks and little ones wearing big shirts. And to our delight there was a gaggle of parents there to “help” and to encourage the little folks to participate in yet another incredible “Earth Day” preparatory event. The paints and tarps and brushes and canvas was laid out there—that ever present large white stretch of blank fabric that would be the stage where a performance about life, about earth was about to unfold.

And so it was, with a basic sketch about the Montessori philosophy of connecting and relating everything to Mother Earth and each other as humans, the children filed out of the classrooms in small groups, wearing their big tee shirts and colorful aprons and began to create the masterpiece of the day. This part of mural magic—the process is always my personal reward—to see the wonder of how the almost edible colors and textures of paint the children paint upon the canvas brings out that unspoiled and joyful inner innocence among them. They look at the canvas with wonder and forget about the parents and teachers who are watchfully and wistfully wishing they could be part of this experience. Little do they know how very much they are because it is they, who along with the teachers have taught and encouraged their offspring to let the creativity and spontaneity rise from there little hearts and souls and spill out onto that canvas.

To see them working together and laughing and explaining or describing their creations is incomparable. To hear their expressions and chatter beats all the fanfare and flourish of the politicians who say a lot about nothing. This is where it matters. This is where the children learn about self- confidence, motor skills, self expression, commonalities, color, shape, design, and building consensus among each other.

And the murals ALWAYS com
e out beautifully. It doesn’t matter if the color in the lines or if a horse is red or a sky is purple…after all, that is how things are or should be in real life! They painted green apples, and golden deserts, blue skies and mountains, and turtles and oceans and trees and all things loved by Mother Nature. To these children and their parents who helped them “finish” and “outline and letter” the mural, this was a demonstration that there is a “Live Earth” right there in Laguna Beach.

Oh, the day was awesome and the children, the parents, the teachers, the weather was awesome and I even forgot to remember that I am supposed to be ill. I was full of joy at their joy. That kind of energy is infectious and after all the images were painted and the handprints stamped onto the colorful border of the Earth Day mural, it was time to pack up and drive back down highway 101. There is always that moment when I leave any mural event, that I feel rise within my soul…it’s a tiny space that gnaws and tugs at my heart that wishes these moments could last forever, and that somehow, if everyone could feel like this or be made to feel like this, there would be an absence of violence indeed.

Normally, my mural story would end right here, but something very profound happened on the way to my car. One of the parents, who had devotedly washed brushes and at least 100 hands, was also readying to leave. I was admiring his car when he asked if he could ask me a question. He actually pulled the car over and as I looked upon his face, and to “paraphrase” what he said/asked was what I thought of the state of the world. He said that he had never known such a time of violence on our planet, that politics and wars and so many things seemed overwhelming and wrong. There was anguish in his voice and in his eyes and I felt my emotions rise in my throat. That moment of joy I had felt seemed as if it were to disappear and simply vanish
into the slight wind that had begun to blow.

But as I glanced over to where the mural lay drying and the chatter of the parents who had gathered and were chattering in wait for their children, I simply explained to him that this was one of the reasons why we do this project. I told him that I didn’t think we could change too many of the older people’s way of thinking and acting, but if children could learn at an early age to respect themselves and each other, we could see peace. Nourishing our souls with kindness, creativity, and communication through painting has no language, religious or ethnic barriers. It is there on the canvas that we all become one human family and it is our commonalities as humans that bind us together. It is sharing and teaching and learning and getting to know one another that makes what “Live Earth” is really all about. I learned something from him today too. I learned that we are not alone in our thinking and that just the fact that he stopped me to ask that question might mean that there are other kindred spirits and even may “older ones” who struggle with these worries about our children. For that I am thankful, for that I know we must continue to create global harmony one mural at a time, one mile at a time. Joanne Tawfilis March 14, 2007

Friday, March 9, 2007

Athens, Ohio 2007

Hi Joanne!
I was just following up to inform you that my team and I completed a peace mural here in our little college town of Athens, Ohio. The team organized a mural creation in Donkey Cafe, a quaint coffee shop in the heart of Ohio University's campus. We chose this venue because the public of Donkey cafe is unique, diverse, and quite expressive. It ended up being the perfect place for a public mural! We had so much fun taking part as peace ambassadors for the Art Miles Mural Project! The mural project has inspired me to do community projects in my hometown of Cincinnati, OH. It seems quite feasible now that I have actually completed a mural and understand the "steps to success!" Thanks for all your help.

Author: Leah Wainscott

Ohio University Student, Global Leadership Center
Final Reflective Paper

I was proud to be assigned the Art Miles Mural Project because I believe in the project’s objective to promote peace through the universal language of art. Creating a mural at Donkey Café was quite rewarding because my team did not have to encourage people to paint, they just did. The public came into the café and saw a blank 12ft x 5ft stretch of canvas, and were enticed to make their mark about world peace.
Amanda, Leah and Lauryn

Watching the mural be created was gratifying because it was intriguing to watch what people painted. The artists were quite diverse, but they all came together for the common goal of promoting world peace. I could not do my homework that day because I could not help but watch their every move with a gleaming smile (quite creepy to those who saw me staring, I am sure!)

We did in fact create one beautiful peace mural, but our original goal was to create three with three different organizations. I now know that three murals would be way too much to handle in a matter of weeks. The team also understands that despite the fact we had the plan to work with different organizations, we ended up not working with any one particular group of people. Our conclusion was that the public of Donkey Café was an ideal venue for an expressive peace mural because the customers are both liberal and creative. So despite the fact that most of our original plans fell through, the final project worked out quite nicely. The only thing I would do differently is not to depend on outside sources so heavily in the beginning. Since school was canceled so often, we could not complete a mural with Kids on Campus like we anticipated. We had done so much planning for this specific mural, and after 6 or 7 weeks passed, we realized time had run too short.