By Melanie Marshall
Students and faculty at California State University San Marcos are expressing their anger and grief over last week’s deadly school shooting in Parkland, Fla., by creating a “reflection painting” designed to show compassion and promote healing.
The Healing Through Art project was launched by students in the university’s Human Development department, who are also researching how art helps people process grief and build resiliency.
It mirrors similar art projects that have been held over the years in the wake of tragic and/or violent events that have rattled the nation’s consciousness. The latest incident – a Feb. 14 shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School that claimed 17 lives – has mobilized students across the country in support of gun reform and better mental health programs.
Students, Faculty Share in Work
The mural project is a collaboration between CSUSM and Art Miles, a nonprofit that uses painting and art to promote a culture of peace. For two days this week, the canvas and paints are being displayed in a prominent spot on the university campus, and students and faculty are invited to stop by and pick up a brush. The mural will eventually be sent to the Florida town where the shooting took place.
“We know that being able to express yourself and how you’re feeling is very healing,” said Jill Bullock, a CSUSM student helping to organize the event. “And because you’re working side-by-side with other students, faculty and visitors, you get to experience how this is helping them. It’s very impactful, very powerful.”
She said the mural is also important because it “lets the families of victims know that, all the way out here in California, we’re mourning with them.”
Institute Course Supports Similar Work
Helping lead the mural project is Marilyn Huerta, who teaches Healing Through Arts: Train the Trainers, an online course offered by the CSU Shiley Institute for Palliative Care. (The Institute’s headquarters is on the CSUSM campus.)
Huerta said she has been involved in several mural-painting projects over the past decade and that they’re very meaningful.
“When these terrible circumstances happen we always think ‘what can we do, how can we offer support?” Huerta said. “We bring projects like this together and people connect and communicate what they’re going through and they cope.”
In that same vein, she said, the Institute’s Healing Through Arts course is vital because it teaches people how to create powerful projects right where they are: “We lead various people all over the world learning how to do healing art in their community. We reach hospitals, medical fields, schools. People teach their neighbors … It’s wonderful.”
Collaboration Fuels Creativity
Regarding the campus event, Huerta credited Dr. Eliza Bigham of CSUSM’s Human Development department with encouraging students to move forward with the project. Bigham teaches Applied Research in Human Development, in which students learn to use theory as a framework for understanding a problem and how to incorporate change strategies in projects that benefit the communities.
She said the mural project is “a prime example of how the students learn to use their classroom knowledge in a community setting to further their understanding of how they can influence ‘change.’”
“Next week, the students will send the mural to Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School to honor the survivors and families of the victims, and then host a focus group to reflect and examine the impact of participating,” Bigham said.
Huerta also praised Joanne Tawfilis, PhD, who with her husband founded Art Miles and is now the Executive Director of the Muramid Museum in Oceanside.
Since 1997, Tawfilis’ group has helped complete more than 5,280 murals, with a half-million people participating from more than 100 countries around the world. After the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in 2012, she and Huerta worked together on a set of 13 canvas murals that were eventually sent to Newton, Conn., to comfort survivors.
“We’ve gotten such wonderful heartfelt responses (to these collaborative pieces),” Tawfilis said. “Families have this extra feeling that people outside really do care. It’s very meaningful and soothing for them. They like to know that people remember what happened and aren’t going to forget.”