In 2014, Gabrielle Pescador and Juan Javier Pescador were invited to participate in the Youth Arts Alliance! Music, Mural, Mosaic Project! to create a mural for the Jackson County Youth Center in Jackson Michigan. They were so excited to be a part of this opportunity to connect with at-risk youth in the Michigan Juvenile Justice System to create public art.
The Pescadors wanted the workshop participants to get excited about expressing themselves in a creative and artistic way and to recognize that they had something of value to share with the public. They showed the youth images of contemporary murals and talked about the rich history of this form of public art and its potential to address social and political concerns. Their goal was for the youth to see themselves in the mural that they were about to create. The Pescadors encouraged the youth to acknowledge their pain while at the same time allow themselves to dream and imagine living happy, healthy and productive lives, and bring that truth and awareness into the mural.
Since the mural was about the youth, the Pescadors wanted to help the workshop participants get comfortable with the idea of self-portraiture. To get things started, they had them create selfies by giving them access to their cell phones and the cell phones of the facility staff (which incidentally did not strictly follow protocol). They added a few writing exercises and a bit of story telling and within a few hours, the workshop participants came up with a basic design for the mural.
It was a welcome change for the youth to have the opportunity to create images of themselves and express their own identities particularly in an institutional environment in which they are defined by legal processes and records. The success of the project was marked by the engagement of the youth in the workshop activities as well as by their sense of pride in what they had accomplished.
The Pescadors were truly moved and inspired by the creativity, courage and enthusiasm of the mural workshop participants. The youth shared a lot about themselves and worked together to create something meaningful and positive. As one participant stated, “I’m really happy that I will be known for something good. That’s not what I’m used to.”
From the very beginning the Pescadors felt that the project was so important that they wanted to create a documentary about it. The idea was met with a bit of resistance at first because of all the institutional and bureaucratic concerns in the juvenile justice system, but thanks to Heather Martin, founder of Youth Arts Alliance!, those barriers were broken down and the Pescadors were given permission to film many of the art workshops inside the lock up facilities. It is very unusual to have an opportunity to showcase at-risk youth in that particular environment to get an honest view of what life is really like for them.