The students at Mt. Horeb High School needed to find a way to address the mental health struggles they knew were so often suffered by their classmates in silence. Mental wellness is a topic that many of us struggle to talk about; we don’t know the right words to say or how to say them. But a small group of compassionate Seniors decided that they were not going to let everyone remain silent. They would open a dialogue to help ensure that Mental Wellness is something that everyone can talk about, to make the path to seeking help less difficult and to break down the stigma that still so often surrounds the issues.
These students, Kristen Koenig, Lexi Ricci, and Taylor Roys were dedicated to their goal and the issue was very near to their hearts as all had been deeply affected by the recent tragic suicide of close friend and classmate. Art teachers Anna King and Dana Showers, as advocates for these students, reached out to DAMA. They asked if we could help them create a Mental Wellness Mural. We had recently worked with Mt. Horeb students on a mural for the Black Earth Children’s Museum. The students enjoyed the paint days and the teachers saw how creating together fostered conversation and engaged students minds. We were humbled by the opportunity to help these students to help each other. The mural began with conversations; the student’s stories, drawings and a quote “I lift my chin, and embody the light” informed our creative process.
DAMA artists, inspired by the project, came up with different designs for the students and teachers to choose from. The group decided on my image of a jungle, lush and green to give a feeling of warmth in the cold and dark. One side is overgrown with foliage, this transitions to a side that is more open with sunshine falling through the trees. The foliage would be a collage of leaves that all displayed an inspirational, positive, or heartfelt message from the students. The seniors created a presentation to share their vision and goal with the school and they gathered messages from everyone.
DAMA had one week in the school to engage with students and create a mural. Because of future school renovations I designed the mural to be painted on eight 4’ by 4’ panels that could each be housed separately until it had a permanent home. Showers and King shared a sign up sheet with other teachers and by day one this sheet was full! Over the course of our week at Mt. Horeb High School over 1,000 students took part in creating their Mental Wellness Mural! One thousand students, plus teachers, parents and community members came together!
This project had many parts, some students painted the forest, others smooshed and cut poly-tab. We created lettering stations where students carefully painted the messages that had been gathered. While painting these messages students were also able to read what their classmates had written and share in a dialog on the issues driving the project. Each step engaged students from across the spectrum of artistic ability and scholastic aptitude. The Seniors wanted to let their classmates know that they are not alone and through this project they were able to bring a school community together in a way that won’t soon be forgotten. The experience is something they will all hold onto and the mural itself will stand with their messages to future students - letting them know that when all seems dark, there is still light.
The Mt. Horeb Mental Wellness mural will be unveiled at a dedication ceremony in the school on May 8th 2018 at 3:30.