More than 250 Pleasanton students recently participated in a banner-making project organized by the Pleasanton Cultural Arts Council to help children and teens regain a sense of community after years of pandemic impacted their Mental Health.
The five artworks, dubbed “Youth Engagement Conversation Banners,” were unveiled to the public on September 30 at the Firehouse Arts Center, where community members, city officials and young people who helped painting the banners all gathered to admire the work. the hard work of students over the past year.
“Students have always expressed that they were very happy with this project. It was very positive,” PCAC president Kelly Cousins told the Weekly. “The kids also expressed support for each other’s work and ideas…they felt like they were making new friends.”
In July 2022, PCAC submitted a grant application to the Civic Arts category of the city’s Community Grants program for just over $6,000 to help fund the project after seeing the success of a similar project at Livermore, according to PCAC grant writer Jan Coleman-Knight.
Coleman-Knight told the Weekly that the goal of the project was to seek to engage with students by creating these banners and see how “this could be really important in helping young people in Pleasanton who have suffered significantly from isolation and of the pandemic.
“What we really tried to do is to contact different groups of young people and involve them in collaboration and cooperation, to offer them a positive expression and a creative process and, therefore, to increase communication between these groups,” Coleman-Knight said.
The unique five-by-three-foot banners were hand-stitched by local Tri-Valley artist Thomasin Dewhurst, who was hired by PCAC to not only create the canvases, but also to assist the various students in the elementary, middle and high schools. addressing mental health issues indirectly through art.
“I’m very supportive of mental health, but using the very words, I find, leads to a certain stigma and distress,” Dewhurst told the Weekly.
That’s why she said she sought to create a “sense of the wonderful natural ability of young people,” by asking students to create banners so they could step into their own space of development and collaboration.
“Students demonstrated that they are very capable of helping each other achieve a state of self-confidence, joy and hope,” Dewhurst said.
She did this by spending time at different schools like Village High School, Hart Middle School, and Alisal Elementary School – to name a few – during and after school hours to work with the children.
Four of the banners were funded through the grant, while the fifth, whose theme was mental wellness, was funded directly by PCAC.
Other banners addressed themes such as holding space, recognizing indigenous lands and raising environmental awareness. There was even one that the Pleasanton Unified School District Mariachi Orchestra, Estrella de Pueblo, had painted, which Cousins said was special because of the student who said it was beautiful to see the colors of their culture on something they helped organize.
“The process itself has been great,” Cousins said. “We were happy to see how enthusiastic the children were about the process and they also learned something about art.”
“It wasn’t just painting a banner and using all the colors and all that kind of stuff,” she added. “It involved us in the whole process. It was very rewarding for us.”
An example of this high level of engagement was when Coleman-Knight visited Alisal with Dewhurst to tell them about the Ohlone tribe and other Native American communities while the students divided into groups to help paint the land recognition banner.
“Alisal’s fourth grade students had a conversation with Ms. Jan Coleman-Knight and artist Ms. Thomasin Dewhurst about Pleasanton’s native plants, animals, tools and people,” said Julie Berglin, principal Alisal’s assistant at the Weekly. “Dewhurst shared the design concept with the students who added their individual contributions to the banner by coloring in the elements depicted in the unique design. The students loved the process and were especially proud of their artistic contribution to the banner project.”
Pleasanton City Council member Valerie Arkin, who spoke at the Sept. 30 event where all the banners were unfurled, told the Weekly that as someone who has always supported the arts and As a former PUSD board trustee, she really likes the idea of reaching out to kids. ‘mental health problems thanks to projects like this.
“There is research that says participating in art activities, allowing kids to express their feelings with art… it really helps students’ mental health and shows how they can help them deal with their feelings” , Arkin said.
“It has also been shown that children can recover more easily from adversity when they have this outlet,” she added. “It does a lot of great things to improve the social and emotional health of our students and is probably one of the reasons why I have always been in favor of the arts in our schools and support them across the board. our community.”
According to Cousins and Coleman-Knight, the banners are considered “temporary works of art” and said they will continue to be displayed in the community during events like last weekend’s Hispanic Heritage Celebration at Alviso Adobe Community Park on October 7. and the upcoming Native American Heritage Month celebration on November 18, also at the Alviso Adobe.