A tornado of color draws you in as you turn the corner on Lake Street to Clinton Avenue in Minneapolis. A giant Van Gogh-esque mural is coming to life under the brushes of the young mural workers from the nonprofit Mentoring for Peace Through Art. They range in age from 11 to 22 years and come from neighborhoods scattered throughout the city.
Their focus on the details of the mural is striking not only because it is a gorgeous sunny day when most kids would rather ride bikes or go to the beach; but also because they have been working at this site for days. These young, disciplined and creative people are serious about their jobs. As co-founder and artistic director Jimmy Longoria emphasizes, this is a job and he is the boss. For some of these kids, this is a first-time work opportunity, but for all of those interviewed, it seemed to be much more than that.
Kong, a soft-spoken young man, remarked on how important to him it was to have a place to “show my skill and imagination and be proud of the work I have done. I feel like once I start painting I am creating my own world.”
Honesty, a bandana-clad girl wearing safety goggles said, “When I first started I didn’t even know how to paint, but now when I look at our mural I think, wow, WE did that!”
During their well-deserved lunch break, I asked a group of girls what they liked best about their jobs. They giggled and said they hadn’t known one another before this and now felt like they had known each other forever. Lisbeth, in between bites of her sandwich, commented that she felt she was growing as an artist. “I did realistic pictures in pencil or pen on my own, but never tried painting and mixing my own colors or using different kinds of strokes,” she said.
Her friend Tenzin chimed in, “It makes you feel like a real artist.”
While adding an outline to the figure of a farmer on the mural, Deonte called the mural “a gift to the community,” which stands in contrast to the tagging seen on many other neighborhood walls. “I think this is a respectful and creative way to express myself,” he said. “Each little stroke of the paintbrush, made by all these people adds up to much more.” He hopes to keep working on projects like this one, to further his skills and stay involved in the community in a positive way.