The Power of Collective Creativity

DAMA staff Willy Street Co-op North
DAMA staff at the unveiling of the new Willy Street Co-op North mural.

Dane Arts Mural Arts (DAMA) helps create a sense of belonging, especially for youth, by beautifying communities and humanizing neighborhoods. Madison Community Foundation has supported DAMA's work since its inception.  

A picture is worth a thousand words, and sometimes much, much more. That’s what participants in DAMA's programs have discovered. You’ve probably seen some of the murals DAMA has created: the Hawthorne Tunnel Mural under East Washington Avenue near Hawthorne Elementary school, the Thrive mural at the Dane County Job Center on Aberg Avenue, or the Good Things Grow Here mural at the Willy Street Co-op North.

But what you don’t see is what happens while these murals are being created. DAMA’s mission, and the effect of its work, goes beyond creating high-quality public art. In the process of training community members to create community murals, DAMA also addresses urban decay, engages the community, and provides youth with an opportunity to discover new skills and thrive.

Appropriately enough, Thrive is the title of one of DAMA’s more recent projects: at the Dane County Jobs Center on Aberg Avenue. This mural was part of DAMA’s “Celebrating Madison’s Northside Community” mural program, which brought together more than 100 community members for a range of mural-making activities.

As part of that initiative, 10 Northside youth leaders had an opportunity to get involved at a much deeper level in creating a landmark mural. For six weeks in July and August, these young people met at the Vera Court Neighborhood Center.

They conducted research, helped with the design process, led community discussions and two community paint days, and spent time themselves painting the Thrive mural.

To develop the mural, DAMA asked community residents and students, “What does it mean to thrive?” Their answers included overcoming adversity, flourishing where you are, having a supportive community and maintaining a connection to nature. Students wanted to create imagery that shows the struggles and frustrations people are going through as well the hope they all feel.

DAMA staff Willy Street Co-op North
Thrive mural, at the Dane County Jobs Center on Aberg Avenue in Madison.

From that conversation, a design featuring a beautiful King Protea flower bursting through the rubble, thriving in harsh conditions alongside the compass rose pointing north to guide and celebrate home. The rubble represents the hardships — violence, addiction, housing insecurity, racism, job insecurity.

The vibrant flower stands for diversity, courage and strength; the strong roots grow, thrive and break through the hardship as a powerful symbol of hope. Just like the mural.

Through a capacity building grant, MCF also is supporting DAMA as it grows, so it will be able to engage the community and create murals in new neighborhoods for years to come.

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