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Bubbler in the time of Covid

Bubbler in the time of Covid

Making Justice Makes it Work
Finished Mural

Open the Sky - Mural at Dane County Juvenile Shelter

Making Justice Mural Remix

May 2021 - Looking out the window at the Dane County Juvenile Shelter home, classroom assistant Ivy laughed, watching a young kiddo on a tricycle stop in his tracks, slowly pedal backwards down the sidewalk, and stop to gape open mouthed at the new mural adorning the shelter’s garage door for a full minute. 

“It's clearly enough to stop traffic,” Ivy told us. 

The new mural, titled Open the Sky, was started as a spring break project with the Dane County Juvenile Shelter, seeking to fill the gap for the youth when teachers were on break from instruction. But that timeline just wasn’t meant to be. Shelter by nature is a transitional space for youth facing a lot of adversity in their lives, and the teens at the time just we’re into the process. 

The Bubbler’s Making Justice program's main goal is to provide meaningful opportunities for engagement and self expression. “We never force anything,” teen librarian Jesse Vieau told us, “we’re providing an outlet for teens, driven by their interests and what they need at the time.”

That kind of flexibility can be hard to plan around, and Jesse was concerned about pushing the project to a different, longer timeline with muralist partner Audifax. But we’re lucky in our collaborators. 

Audifax has been a long time partner to the Making Justice. In fact, a piece of one teen’s art from a previous Audifax workshop adorns the jersey on the mural of the west wall of the space. Besides her obvious incredible talent, her meditative style and ability to connect to the teens in this target population have made her an invaluable asset to Making Justice. We learn new things - about art, about ourselves, about teens - every time we partner together.

Teen watched Audifax painting the face

Teen watches Audifax put finishing touches on the mural's face. 

This project was no exception. Audifax took the situation in stride, keeping her availability flexible to engage with youth at the shelter when they were interested and excited. You can read more about her experience on her recent blog post about the project. 

And the result is amazing. Working with 24 over the course of 2 months through the ideation, designing, and painting the mural is now nearly complete. 

In an email to the team, Shelter teacher Britt Falbo reflected, ‘I couldn't sleep at 3am this morning, and I thought about the mural. Some of my thoughts on Open The Sky and the energy I get from it...You are limitless. Glass Ceiling shattered.  Create your own storm. Create your own calm. Our supervisor just stopped by, and was captivated with the piece as well.  Everyone is in love with it!” 

And we are too. If you’re riding your tricycle through the Atwood neighborhood any time soon, be sure to pedal backwards for a closer look.

Youth at Work on the Shelter mural

Teen Services Librarian Jesse Vieau takes a photo of the [no photos sign]... with permission of course! 

Making it Work

July 2020 - For years, the Bubbler has been providing creative programming for youth in the Dane County Juvenile Detention Center (JDC) and shelter home as a part of the Making Justice program. During the COVID shut down, teen services librarian Jesse Vieau, Bubbler media instructor Rob Franklin (Rob Dz), and Bubbler partners scrambled to find ways to reconnect with those teens in the system who found themselves even more isolated than before.

On a weekday in August, I meet up with teaching artist Carlos Gacharna over Zoom. When Carlos moved to Long Beach three years ago, the Bubbler team was just a little heartbroken. A long time teaching artist with the Making Justice program, we had come to love Carlos’ easy going style, quick rapport with the teens we worked with, and highly engaging art projects grounded in social justice movements. But when COVID hit, and workshops moved digitally, California suddenly didn’t seem that far away. 

His ability to connect and form relationships with youth hasn’t changed, regardless of the time zone, and remarkably, regardless of the online platform. He's sharing the history of protest movements in the US through videos and music and connecting to activist street art practices. But the digital world of art making is a little harder to crack. “Hold on just a second,” Carlos tells me, as he pulls a roll of green masking tape out of his desk. “I’m getting my hand-cam set up.”

Youth at detention engaging in a digital workshop

Youth at detention engaging via zoom - photo edited to protect identities.

Carlos’ “hand-cam” is his phone, attached with masking tape to a lamp clamped onto his easel. It’s a second video screen logged into our zoom call so the kids can still see his face and talk to him, but also see his hands as he guides them through the art project. “Hey, you know, we make it work,” Carlos laughs. 

“Making it work” is the trend in Making Justice workshops these days. Historically always done in person, it took weeks to navigate public health concerns and find ways to connect with the youth in the JDC. When Jesse Vieau was able to get technology to the staff to use with the kids, it still took some adjustments. “The relationship building part is the easier part, my ability to work with kids and connect with them hasn’t changed,” Rob Franklin told us.“It's the technical stuff that's harder, like working on a beat. It is hard to coach a kid on writing their rhymes online. But it is all relatively new and we’re learning as we’re going.”

There have been a lot of things to learn, and Jesse has been leading the charge. When he heard that all newly incarcerated youth faced a two week quarantine away from the rest of the population, Jesse first focused on getting them library materials - mp3-players loaded with music and high interest books - then navigated how to connect with the group virtually. Providing iPads to youth at the Juvenile Shelter home allowed them to gather on Zoom and make art together, even when they had to be separate in their rooms.

It has helped that we're not alone in making a digital landscape work for us. We've learned a lot partnering with the Urban League of Dane County as well as Mike Ford’s Hip Hop Architecture Camp to provide enriching experiences online. From sending materials through the mail to participants (what can we fit in an envelope!?) to engaging with online tools like Tinkercad or SoundTrap or getting creative, like teaching design by creating a pair of custom Nikes on their website - everyone is innovating.

Bubbler teaching artists lead a workshop with detention

Muralists Shiloah & Emida lead the mural visioning workshop with detention via zoom. 

Taking Art Outside

However, some of our best practices did translate to the new normal - like creating outdoor, community focused murals. Once technology was available, Jesse connected teens virtually to muralists Emida Roller and Shiloah Coley to create a vision for a blank wall at the shelter home. The students took ownership of the project quickly - having the idea to tie in elements from their other workshops with Carlos and teaching artist Audifax into the design. 

Old English lettering from Carlos’ workshop reading “We Matter” appears at the top of the mural, and a design from a student at detention done in Audifax’s abstract painting workshop was translated into the jersey worn by the young man pictured looking into the mirror, seeing his future self. While students from detention couldn't participate in the painting, they were delighted to see their work incorporated.

Teens at work on the mural

Students at the shelter home were able to safely work outside with Emida and Shiloah to remove the overgrown vegetation from the hill above, clean, prep, and paint the wall. Shiloah was excited to see the kids' confidence and comfort level grow day to day with the project. 

“At the beginning, one of the students didn’t feel comfortable contributing ideas to the mural,” Shiloah told us. But near the end of the projects “he took a lot of initiative by telling me what he wanted to paint and start working on; it was great to see this shift.” 

“It was also obvious that the kids just liked being outside,” she remarked. That much was certainly evident. Realizing how much more shady space was available after clearing the brush above the mural, shelter home mentor, Ivie Tharpe, acquired several hammocks to create a “hammocktopia” for the kids.

final mural

Image from abstract workshop in its final location on the mural. Hand-made student sign for Hammock Topia. 

“It has been awesome to see them transform the space and make it their own,” Ivie told us. “They feel so much more comfortable here and have ownership over the space.” And pride. When one of the students was picked up at the shelter by his family, he insisted they HAD to see the wall. He posed for photos and told them the entire process, excited he had created something amazing, even while going through a challenging experience. 

Ivie was energized by the project and its power to build meaningful relationships with the shelter’s resident adults, the artists, students, and even with the community as neighbors would stop and connect while walking by. 

The focus on relationships as well as the sense of safety, ownership, and voice has always been the focus on Bubbler programming for teens. It has been nice to know we can all still “make it work” when so much has changed around us.

You can see more images of the mural in progress on our website.


Rebecca Millerjohn
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