Second-Place Winner in National Mural Contest for Runaway and Homeless Youth

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Congratulations to Briarpatch Youth Services in Madison, Wisconsin, second-place winner of the 2015 Family & Youth Services Bureau Mural Contest for Runaway and Homeless Youth Programs.*

For the fifth year, runaway and homeless youth programs funded by the bureau were given the chance to win the materials to paint a mural in their facilities. A jury of bureau staff and young people from Los Angeles LGBT Center, last year’s winning agency, picked the winner and two finalists. A slideshow of murals can be found here.

Briarpatch Youth Services’ transitional living cooperative, endearingly called GoldenEye, is a house for young people ages 18-22 years old who have aged out of foster care or experienced homelessness. This cooperative is a unique service preventing homelessness among young people in Dane County, Wisconsin. Briarpatch began partnering with The ArtWrite Collective in Fall 2014 to bring resiliency-nourishing arts programming to youth in this cooperative. Briarpatch youth are working with artists to plan zines, design stop motion animation videos, screen print, talk about issues that are important to them and have fun together.

For this mural contest, ArtWrite supported the transitional living cooperative members who had a lot to say about the experiences of teens on the street and homelessness among youth. While brainstorming themes for this mural, one member said that, “People are quick to judge. Many youth are still in school or trying to get a GED, and we have things to take care of. We are determined to get out of this situation, and we have hard skin. Adults like to say that you have nothing to stress about because you’re just a kid. We stress more because of that. We are…what’s the word? Resilient.”

Members of the cooperative are interested in the idea of visibility or invisibility for the experiences of youth. “We Are Here” is the title of this mural design. From the top down, you will see explicit demands, like “Don’t Neglect Our Innocence.” Next, we see hands rising out of the city skyline to represent young people on the streets and all over the city. The red and orange cutouts represent different services for homeless populations around Madison, WI.

Under the red buildings, we see a glass dome. One of our members, Karena, played with ideas of an abstract landscape in which the dome was a close up of a classroom in Madison. Karena, “K”, “F”, Josh and other members of the cooperative want to show that not everyone is going through the same thing while sitting in school. While some are thinking about their crush, others might be thinking about where they are going to sleep or how they will pay for their cap and gown.

In the final mural project, members of the cooperative would like to write positive messages around the edges of the mural about how Madison can better support the strong, resilient youth who make up the city. Multiple youth brainstormed themes for this mural and drew, glued or helped design this mixed media project. Members of the transitional living cooperative would like to invite younger people who are going through hard times to help paint this mural with them when the winter season lets up as a community outreach project that they lead.

*It is important to note that this design was drafted before we were able to discuss the ramifications of language like “All Lives Matter” in the face of the hugely important movement for Black Lives Matter; while the teens’ intentions were to advocate for the intersecting experiences of all people, including youth of color experiencing housing insecurity, they have chosen to remove this language from any future iterations of the project to respect the unique significance of the phrase Black Lives Matter—there are more productive ways to indicate these intersections of identity and experience without co-opting the movement’s language.

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