By Philip Haldiman, Independent Newsmedia
From brainstorming to concept pitches, and finally to painting, 14 teenage girls have spent the summer working diligently on what will be Peoria’s longest mural, expected to be installed in late spring 2018 at the New River Trailhead at Westbrook Village, 83rd Avenue north of Union Hills Drive.
“Mirage” was unveiled this week, a 30-foot long, 5-foot tall work of art consisting of the surrounding Peoria desert landscape, community members and nearby trial heads, with ideas and scenes separated by rings.
Master Artist Belal Jammal said the mural also depicts two female settlers who migrated from Peoria, Ill., to establish agriculture in the new Peoria of the Southwest.
“There are two runners on the right who represent modern day community members, they are painted in the same blue as the settlers to show progression through time while paying homage to the journeys taken by the original settlers,” he said.
The city contributed $10,000 for the creation of the mural and for the Gallery 37 program. Additional funding and resources were provided through the National Endowment for the Arts and other grants and donors. Installation costs will be separate as part of the Trailhead Construction project.
The art project is an annual endeavor by Gallery 37, the West Valley Art Council’s youth arts employment program that pairs students ages 15 to 18 years-old with professional artists in order to design, develop and install a permanent piece of public art for display in the West Valley. This school-to-work apprenticeship program results in the creation and permanent placement of a professional piece of public art.
Bernadette Carroll, executive director West Valley Arts Council, said students are exposed to a variety of career opportunities, receive college credits in partnership with Estrella Mountain Community College, and are placed in an environment that cultivates interest in furthering their arts education.
She said the experience includes creative collaboration, communication and time management, while providing vital job skills such as brainstorming, business etiquette, marketing and public relations, as well as proposal development, presentation preparation and project research.
Ms. Carroll said the all-female team of artists actually came about due to lack of male applicants.
“I love that this team took so much pride in being the first all-female Gallery 37 team and used images of strong women in their mural to reflect themselves,” she said.
Early in the process, the students pitched mural ideas to the class with the top two concepts presented to the Peoria Art Commission at a public meeting for a final vote June 13.
Commissioner Robert Panzer said the group of girls gave a thorough and professional presentation to the commission.
“They talked a lot on the values of both options, and justified every artistic choice while letting us form our own perspective,” Mr. Panzer said. “From presentation to design, they did a really outstanding job.”
Claire Kemp, a senior at Sunrise Mountain High School, said she had been looking for an art internship, and Gallery 37 fit the bill perfectly, mixing her love for art and the desire for a real work experience and a real paycheck.
“I really liked the big group,” she said. “Everybody added their own style and finishing with all the little details by the end made it cohesive.”
Mr. Jammal, who gradated from the art education program at University of Arizona, provided training and support in each phase of the project. He said he’s always been interested in art for social impact and the mural fulfilled that goal.
“‘Mirage’ is intended to reflect our attitude towards finding our roots, community, life opportunities and ourselves as we develop our potential,” he said. “As artists, we discover that the meaning is not only what we intend to put into the work, but also from the endless possibilities people have to interpret the artwork for themselves. In this way, both the artist and viewer face an illusion of what is really there, much like looking at a mirage.”
Gallery 37 began in the Block 37 area of downtown Chicago that included the installation of a summer arts camp designed to revitalize the immediate community while providing job training and arts education to the city’s youth. Since 1991, Gallery 37 has expanded into a nation-wide program to include more than 24 U.S. cities as well as the U.K, and Australia.
Since 2001, more than 250 Valley students have participated in Gallery 37, hailing from Glendale, Goodyear, Avondale, Buckeye, El Mirage, Surprise and other cities. Artistic disciplines have ranged from ceramics and sculpture to videography and graphic design.
Samantha Hulen, a senior at Liberty High School, has been painting since fifth grade. Her ceramics teacher informed her about the internship with Gallery 37. Seeing the mural come fruition has been exciting, she said. The art piece’s location in north Peoria, where she lives, is an additional perk.
“When I’m driving by it, I can say, ‘that was me,’” she said.
Gallery 37 disciplines
The Gallery 37 program offers student apprentices training in a variety of artistic disciplines that can include:
• Mosaic Work
• Public Art
• Videography/Video Editing
• Graphic Design
• Digital Art