Through the practice of community mural art with hundreds of participants there is a miracle that happens. That miracle is a friendship, a bond between all of the participants, maybe unknowingly for some but it is there. You feel it when everyone is set and focused on their part, a harmony is observed. We may not grasp the meaning of it during the process and well beyond the completion of the mural project but it is there. I do not realize the impact the process and experience have on others until maybe much later.
For example, out of the blue twenty years later, I will get a message from a former participant, a homeless person, who needed to let me know how the experienced transformed his life and made him a better person for himself and the people around him. Just by including this person in the community process changed him.
Another time during a mural project with many youths who had little or no art in their lives. During our community mural design workshop, the youth are asked to develop a theme for their mural and draw out their ideas. One young girl said she couldn’t draw and wasn’t going to draw. I said to her that she could draw anything, that it didn’t have to look like anything, just express your emotion. She said all she could do was scribble. I said that is fine, do all the scribbles you feel like. It is okay. She was not happy with her scribbles. I suggested she color in each of the shapes the scribbles made and see what happens. She did that and it came out to be a very beautiful bright abstraction. Everyone liked it and her design became the background for the whole mural. Her whole being came alive and involved in the process. This was art transforming life. The experience made her more pleasant, happier, not negative around everyone, and encouraged her to cultivate friendship with her peers.
SUSAN KELK CERVANTES, artist, educator, veteran of the SF community mural art movement, the founding director of Precita Eyes Muralists in the Mission District of San Francisco. Established in 1977, Precita Eyes is one of only a handful of community mural arts centers in the United States creating over 600 murals locally and internationally. Cervantes is responsible for numerous collaborative community murals considered some of the finest in the Bay Area such as Leonard Flynn Elementary School, Mission Playground Pool, Precita Valley Community Center, Bayview Foundation, the S.F. Women’s Building, and many others. Through a collaborative art process Cervantes is dedicated to social change by transforming the environment and lives of the participants through the creation of community murals. In addition to studio and mural painting Susan works in various mediums including mosaic, painted ceramic tile, bronze relief and “ polyfresco” .
At age 16 Cervantes moved to San Francisco from Dallas, Texas to continue her art education at the San Francisco Art Institute in 1961 where she met her life partner visionary artist, Luis Cervantes.
In the early 70’s Cervantes was influenced by the Mujeres Muralistas, the first women’s mural collective in the Mission District. Inspired Susan continues to practice the collaborative process as a key to community awareness and positive transformation.
BILLY”S COMMENTS : As the coordinator of The 1990 Institutes’s US-China Cross-Cultural Art & Environment Projects, I had a weighty dilemma one summer. While China National Childrens’ Center in Beijing was all set to welcome the American student delegation promised by The 1990 Institute, I was unable to sign up the American studends as the Economy was bad that year and the parents all asked to cancel their pledges. I had to solve this problem quickly in order not to disappoint our Chinese partners ! Luckily, I knew about Precita Eyes Muralists in the Mission District of San Francisco, so I took a chance to approach their director Susan Kelk Cervantes. Everything turned out perfectly. Susan’s methodology was an EYE-OPENNER for China as she taught FREE-FLOWING CREATIVITY, and IMPROVIZATION in collaboration. Her compassionate encouragements won her deep respect and affection. She is still well remembered by the Chinese students and teachers from Beijing as ” A VERY VERY SPECIAL AMERICAN FRIEND & TEACHER “.