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Paint Transforms Pain into Power!

An interview with Jeremy Del Rio

 

A foundational component of The Fuel Networks is collaboration. Trending across America and globally are massive collaborative murals curated to revitalize neighborhoods with stories of pride, culture, and more. Jeremy Del Rio, Esq, the co-founder and executive director of Thrive Collective, is a significant leader in this international movement to color our communities. This nonprofit creates hope and opportunity through arts and mentoring in and around public schools. World Art Day is April 15th, and this month, we sat down with Jeremy to discuss the impact of art in urban communities. 

 

How do you believe art, particularly murals, can influence and uplift urban youth in a community?

 

Art is beautiful. For kids growing up in complicated contexts, looking up and seeing something that is beautiful and composed tells a story. The effect of art is to elevate their expectations. Some of the kids in our communities never go to a museum, but when the landscape of their streets, schools, and surrounding buildings becomes a living museum, it has the same kind of effect. It gives them something to aspire to.

 

  1. When public art happens, it transforms a space. It makes the ideas of transformation and change tangible. These ideas may feel abstract to someone in the middle of crisis or trauma, but when they watch the ugly side of a building be transformed into something colorful, composed, and beautiful, they become achievable. 

 

  1. It invites young people to participate in active transformation. Most of the work we do is collaborative. When you take a young person who has never touched a paintbrush and has no idea of theory or techniques and have them execute a public art project, they start with skepticism. However, when they engage in the process, it changes everything. 

 

When this thing you have been talking about for weeks comes to life, and you see the initial disbelief in their eyes turn into expectation and anticipation – you have created a memory that lives beyond that moment and into the rest of their lives.

In your experience, what role does color play in conveying messages and emotions through art that resonate with young people?

 

Color is powerful. The first truth of scripture is that God is an artist. “In the beginning, God created” is the very first sentence of scripture, and the first three chapters of Genesis are the foundational story uncovering God’s creative process. The fact that Creativity is creating humankind in His image and likeness proves we are to co-create with Him. To be fruitful and multiply, to steward creation, to name all the animals, and every directive God gave to Adam and Eve was inherently creative.

 

Beginning with the premise that God is an artist, He created us in His image and likeness and creation reveals that God is inspired by color. The diversity of His creation is limitless and colorful. Color plays itself out in the natural world and our imagery – it draws the capacity to feel out of us. It causes things to relate to each other in ways that would have otherwise not been related. God prioritizes color as an accent, a driver, a feeling, and an emotional way to communicate beauty, love, and affection.

 

Color is where it begins for me personally and for most artists. Color allows us to interpret the subject very differently. 

 

Beyond art itself – when we look at how fractured our society is – color is a surrogate for separation; it becomes the basis for differentiating groups beyond skin stones. We impose identity through color choices like sports uniforms, flag choices, etc. Color becomes one dividing mechanism.

 

When you consider the human impulse to separate and leverage color distinctions as a basis and contrast it with how our creator pulls colors together. God uses color to connect everything. The imagery of the rainbow in the story of Noah was God’s promise to not destroy the earth. It is the promise of redemption, possibility, forgiveness, and grace, and it is depicted in this object with the full spectrum of color manifested in one visual image. It’s a beautiful contrast for us to have color variety, differences, and nuances. Color is not a basis for separation but a bridge for composition, connection, and unity. 

 

How can art be a powerful tool for telling stories and sharing the experiences of urban youth within a community?

 

The act of creating anything is therapeutic. We (Thrive Collective) operate in the context of trauma, and they bring their trauma to school, their neighborhood, and homes. The students don’t have access to ways to process their pain and heal through their trauma. Art is a therapeutic way to heal through the emotional pain they have been carrying with them and a touch point to God. 

 

Art becomes a powerful way to voice experiences when they may not have words. People cannot always articulate what or why they are experiencing something or how they got there, but by leveraging all different kinds of art forms, they can give insight and voice to their experiences. 

 

When you give young people permission to create public art, you affirm that their voice matters and is worthy of publication. Those messages outlast the classroom experience. The more opportunities they have, the more confident they are at sharing their compassion and feelings.

Peace in the Park: Stop the Violence
PS 78 / Rev. Dr. Maggie Howard Park (2023)

Murals speak to what unites us and not what divides us. Our beliefs may contradict, but this wall tells us it’s possible to unite, and I will keep working at it to bring peace and restoration. The message of a mural echoes for as long as the piece remains on the wall.

 

What advice would you give to young aspiring artists who want to make a positive impact through their creative expressions in their neighborhoods?

 

  1. You are in good company. If you define as a creative, you are on the cutting edge of the image of God on earth as it is in heaven. God created. And God created us to create. If you have the skillset to manifest that creation in the traditional outlets we associate with, like art, music, movies, etc., go for it. Lean into that and figure out what God wants you to say through those creative expressions

 

  1. Work at your craft. Just because you have a voice matters – and we want to hear it – if you develop your craft, your message will be sticky. Your message will resonate with more people. If it is raw, unfiltered, and unpracticed, people will have to work harder to hear what you have to say. 

 

  1. Don’t isolate yourself. The creative process that Genesis 1 reveals is done in collaboration – “Let us make man in our image.” The Father, Son, and Holy Spirit worked in harmony to produce both an individual and a couple. The manifestation of the image of God did not come when Adam was isolated but when Adam and Eve were united. If you want to maximize the creative capacity God has entrusted you, do it in community with others. Build a fellowship that will hold you accountable for your craft—practice in community for maximum effect.

 

  1. Trust the process. We get so focused on the output that we get overwhelmed. Instead we should take the big daunting vision, deconstruct it to its art, and then do one thing at a time in proper sequence. It may take a few tries to establish the sequence – but that’s part of the process – trust that process. God’s commentary in Genesis is that He says His process was good. God said every milestone along the way was good because He was working the process. Creatives get overwhelmed because they want it to happen quickly. We are all impatient and feel everything has to be immediate and viral, but those numbers are fleeting. Although the views and likes are impressive, they don’t last – they don’t have the eternal impact that the creator wants. We get eternal results by trusting the process. 

 

Can you share examples or success stories where art projects led by young individuals have brought about positive change and unity in a community?

 

In the ten years since the students of New York collaborated on our resilience mural, created after Hurricane Sandy, we have completed 475 murals. This spring, we have about 100 murals in production. In the fall of 2022, we were celebrating our 300th mural. It took us seven years to do three murals, nine years to do 300, and 18 months to do 250 because young people responded creatively to the devastation of Hurricane Sandy. Biblically, this is what happens when we are resilient when we are not overcome by adversity, and when we surrender to the process. Seeking wisdom amid those hurting traumatic places and identifying the treasure in the neighborhood yields eternal results.

 

I thoroughly enjoyed my time with Jeremy and have found a new appreciation for murals. Many urban children are in a world they cannot physically escape . Art allows them to build a landscape outside their window that mentally moves them beyond the borders of their neighborhood. Find a friend and color your community through collaborative efforts for positive change. To learn more about Jeremy Del Rio, Thrive Collective, and their global efforts visit ThriveCollective.org. Together we can help paint a better picture and fuel sustainable change for urban youth leaders and youth. Find out more about the Fuel Networks powered by UYWI & DVULI by visiting FuelNetworkPartners.org.  

 

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