Visual Communication Design Professor Collaborates with Community Based Correctional Facility Clients to Create Cleveland Mural

When we think of an artist, a particular picture may come to mind. Maybe it’s a painter in her studio or a glassblower working in their shop. One would probably not think of an inmate giving a tattoo.

“They’re amazing illustrators, but they need to learn the context of illustration on a bigger scale,” said Christopher Darling, an assistant professor in the school of Visual Communication Design.  “Instead of using tattoos for gangs, is there a way to use illustration for good?”

This question would carry Darling on a summer-long project even he had never planned for. It began when he decided he wanted to paint a mural somewhere in Cleveland, having just moved to the area. After driving around Cleveland and finding a wall that looked good for the mural, he contacted the business the wall belonged to, North Star, not knowing who they were but hoping they might let him paint on it.

“I had never done anything like it before,” said Darling. “It was something I always wanted to do, and I just felt like there was so much opportunity in Cleveland.”

According to their website, North Star is “an innovative resource center that helps individuals who have been involved in the criminal justice system navigate through barriers to become law abiding, contributing members of their families and their communities.” Owned by the community corrections facility Oriana House, which is based in Akron, the organization aims to provide information and services for these individuals and support them in their journey. Some of the services available at North Star include employment services, GED courses, self-help services, and computer training.

When Darling contacted North Star, the organization saw the potential for something much bigger than a mural painted by Darling himself. They invited nine clients from the Community Based Correctional Facility (CBCF) in Akron to work with Darling on the mural. Each week they were driven to the center to take classes with Darling at North Star. They would meet three times a week two hours a week to learn about the history of illustration and graffiti art.

“It’s so crazy how it worked out,” Darling said. “I couldn’t imagine a better place to paint a mural. I honestly didn’t know what North Star was; I just thought it was a nice wall and they’d let me paint on it.”

Eventually they began working on some illustrations for the mural and brainstorming ideas. Darling said it was difficult to incorporate everyone’s ideas into one illustration, but in the end he and Terran Washington, a graduate student in the school of Visual Communication Design, were able to put together an illustration that all of the clients and the organization had input on.

Once the mural was ready they waited until the sun went down to project the mural onto the wall and trace in the sketch to paint later.

“It was kind of like paint by numbers, like a big coloring book,” Darling said. “The facility is on East 55th street, which is one of the worst neighborhoods in the U.S. One in six people are subject to a violent crime each year. We wanted to give back to the city of Cleveland in an area that really needed it.”

After painting in the sketch and a finishing up the project, Darling said he is glad he painted the mural but he's even more appreciative of getting to know the CBCF clients he worked with.

"After working with the guys we became very close,” Darling said. “I was pretty apprehensive going into it, but now I would have the guys over to my house to make dinner for them. They were the nicest guys in the world.”

Oriana House has already asked Darling to work on another mural, and there will be a dedication date announced for the piece soon.

POSTED: Tuesday, September 22, 2015 - 2:21pm
UPDATED: Thursday, September 24, 2015 - 1:04pm
Anna Hoffman, global communications major