This year marked 25 years of partnership between Free Arts for Abused Children of Arizona and Catholic Charities Community Services. Through the course of this close relationship, Free Arts has provided the creation of beautiful art projects such as the ceramic mural at The Refuge Café in 2014 and the mural and community garden improvement project at Rosewood Affordable Housing Community in 2018. In aligning themselves with their mission, Free Arts has also provided ongoing programming for unaccompanied minors and foster families through Catholic Charities, which has included multiple music and art-making workshops.
However, with the onset of COVID-19, many of Free Arts’ programs made dramatic changes in order to keep their staff and community safe. With a new restructuring of programs, Free Arts dedicated $37,000 to a new project with Catholic Charities.
Local Artists Serve Diverse Communities
Together, the organizations envisioned an ambitious project working with five Free Arts alumni, ages 16 to 25 paired with five teaching artists; Kristin Wesley, Isaac Caruso, Francisco Garcia, Skye Lucking and Linda Pulinisi. Working fast, the teams would create five murals in five weeks at three affordable housing sites, as well as My Sister’s Place domestic violence shelter, and the Unaccompanied Minors Program.
“It all came together so fast. From the support of the program supervisors to the artists provided by Free Art,” said Malissa Geer, Sr. Director of Community Engagement & Volunteer Services, “it is amazing what we can accomplish working together toward the same vision.”
The mural series focuses on the theme of “Celebrating Resilience.” Each mural was carefully crafted by the artists to reflect the strength and identity of the community in which each art piece is located.
Artist Kristin Wesley worked closely with Sarah Hamilton, the Resident Services Coordinator at Desert Willow, to create a vibrant mandala in the common area of the affordable housing community. Sarah was able to provide Kristin with several art pieces that she had been given through the years from the youth she worked with. Kristin incorporated the children’s drawing into the mural.
Sarah Hamilton said, “It is such a special moment to show a child their artwork, which is now on display through the mural. Not only does it affirm their dignity but gives them a sense of ownership in their community.”
In a similar collaboration, Artist Skye Lucking worked closely with the team at the Unaccompanied Minors Program to collect images of the various cultures represented in the staff and the vulnerable minors and families they serve. These images included country flags, foods, traditional dress, and photos of home from over 12 different countries. Skye created an inspired and colorful multimedia mural inside the office.
One team member mentioned, “I was overwhelmed by the feelings of nostalgia when I first witnessed the mural. Seeing images of my home country brought back memories of my childhood and the feelings of family. I was in tears.”
Each of the five murals depict the deeply transformational beauty of unity through difficult circumstances and strengths within the dignity of a person. During times such as these, these values are important to remember. This project will stand as a reminder not just for now but for the generations to come.