Building community – one broken tile at a time…

These next photos are from a series of community volunteer projects in Maxwell Park (off High Street in East Oakland).  It’s a small neighborhood park that, until a park improvement process began in 2008, had fallen into disuse by many local residents due to crime and blight.

The primary eyesore was the small restroom building that immediately greeted visitors upon their entry to the park – ugly and typically covered with graffiti. This is what it looks like now…

welcome to maxwell park, friends of maxwell park, oakland park mosaics

It’s simply stunning… beckoning you to enter the park, step a bit closer, and examine its gorgeous glittering details.

This first mosaic was finished in July of 2009, thanks to the dedicated efforts of many volunteers, including a handful of trained mosaics artists and coordinators, and scores of local community members, young and old.

The MacArthur Metro interviewed a number of the artist/coordinators about their involvement, and I think their answers are enlightening about the power of art to transform, both spaces, and individuals. Here are their quotes (from Maxwell Park Neighborhood News by Pat Patterson):

  • Bonnie Henriquez (co-chair, stained glass and mosaic artist): “… It is a way to bring color, beauty and art into the park… Someone once said that a group is so much stronger than each individual person and that is what I saw during this project. People of all ages and ethnicities participated and are very proud of their part of the mosaic.”
  • Roberto Costa (co-chair, mosaic artist who creates abstract mosaic murals): “I saw a sense of empowerment and giving. I believe that mosaic murals represent a good opportunity to involve community members and create a stronger community around it.”‘
    Gail Murphy (Peter Pan Director and mosaic team member): “As people come to the park, we move toward knowing our neighbors and creating a more peaceful place for everyone.”
  • Beverly Shalom (clinical social worker, mosaic artist, part of the organizing committee): “What was exciting was the evolution of the wall. The wall kept changing with each person’s, including the children’s, ideas and contributions.”
  • Krista Kiem (mom and mosaic artist, owner: Krista Kiem Mosaics, main wall designer): “I liked working with all the kids and helping both kids and adults, educating and inspiring them. It was so great to see their excitement, their enthusiasm as they meticulously placed their pieces.”
  • Susan Scolnick – mosaic artist, quilter, potter: “I enjoyed the entire process, especially working with so many different people and I’ve now already noticed an increase in the number of people who come to enjoy the park. Public art changes the outdoor space and makes people feel safe. Be a part of it.”

maxwell park mosaic, krista kiem mosaic artist, community art projects

The Mosaic Team chose an overall design theme after soliciting design ideas from the community and nearby schools.  Within that framework, children were encouraged to incorporate their own designs (flowers, insects, etc.)  A special transfer process (the indirect method) allowed for them piece together their creations on sticky adhesive paper, which could later be transferred to the wall once mortar was in place.

When the wall was first unveiled, the children involved would act as “tour guides”, proudly displaying their designs.  You can see from these detail photos some of the amazing creativity incorporated…

friends of maxwell park, maxwell park improvements, oakland public mosaics
hummingbird mosaic, maxwell park mosaic, oakland public mosaic

The project was such a success, that a second wall (the backside of the restroom building) was completed in the spring of 2010, with the help of over 110 volunteers and more than 1000 volunteer hours logged!

While taking photos of this, a young boy playing nearby with friends came running over to me. I asked him about the mosaic and he smiled and said “It’s good!” As I was snapping more photos, he pulled out a small cellphone and snapped a photo himself. “Got it,” he cheered, then turned and ran back to his friends.

maxwell park mosaic project

community mosaics oakland, maxwell park, nancy karigaca, friends of maxwell park

The day I was shooting a third wall appeared prepped, and I believe they began tiling last weekend. I can’t wait to go back and see the next installment…
3rd mosaic maxwell park, maxwell park mosaics