Reno News and Review

Thurs., July 29, 1999

Mural, Mural On The Wall

© Carol Cizauskas

Youth Artworks Trains Young People In The Arts

Three years ago, Reno began noticing artistic murals where graffiti once defaced blank walls. Now, our city not only sees these murals but offers blank walls faster than taggers-turned-artists can paint them. The community also sees charming brick paths interspersed with flower gardens springing to life where once undesirable plots resided. And theater and literature blossom from young apprentices as they are mentored in these arts.

This year marks the third Youth ArtWorks Program, running June 14-July 30. The effects, however, last long after the final day of this annual summer project of the Sierra Arts Foundation. The murals, landscape architecture, theater, and literature affect the lives both of the young people aged 14-21 who create the art and of area residents, who benefit from the apprentices' creative endeavors.

Depending on their artistic program, the young people are painting murals at Billinghurst Gym and at St. Mary's Hospital, putting the finishing touches on landscape architecture at the Lear Theater administrative offices, or compiling a literary chronicle of this summer's Youth ArtWorks. The theater apprentices performed Kite Tales at the Lear Theater July 23-24.

The program aims for the apprenticeship model, young people working with professional artists who teach them skills in both art and getting work as an artist. While honing their craft, the youths are paid for their 8:00 am to noon shifts and are taught work responsibilities. Participants emphasize just how fun learning to work is. Mandi Monticelli, junior literary apprentice, says, "We are getting paid for doing things we love."

Not only are they getting paid for doing what they love, but success stories of the youths abound. During the RN&R interview, Monticelli was bursting with excitement about having passed her GED exam. And Cassandra Darrough, a muralist in her second year with the program, will study at an art institute. She states, "Youth ArtWorks showed me I can do it."

Youth ArtWorks also provides a means to replace criminal activity with artistic expression. Stacey Spain, Program Director of the Sierra Arts Foundation, states, "Students have come through this program starting as taggers who are now learning amazing art skills. Now they can make their living at commercial art."

The program is open to young artists regardless of their background. This allows interaction among youths from all socio-economic levels, according to Craig Pittman, one of the founders of the program and the Community Liaison Officer of the Reno Police Department. This social learning is another essential value Youth ArtWorks provides.

What does the future hold for this three-year old program? Possibly in January it will grow into a separate, non-profit entity. With sufficient funding, the summer program could expand into year-round activity. Pittman emphasizes that 80% of donations for non-profits come from individuals. He encourages people to contribute, saying, "At this time, there are more walls than time to paint murals."

Money would buy time. As Cassandra Darrough puts it, "I would like to see murals all over Reno." With additional monetary support and continued community enthusiasm, her dream can come true.