MIRIAM WOMEN IN ACTION Miriam Women in Action is the Leadership Guild of the Miriam Apartments. In pursuit of buiding internal community, Miriam leaders designed a project which would tell the story of the journey from homelessness to home, provide a meeting place where women could find common ground, and begin to build the relationships necessary to move forward together on common issues.
THE TENANT LEADERSHIP PROJECT The Tenant Leadership Project, using community organizing principles, brings Lakefront tenants together to create a strong, unified voice to represent issues of formerly homeless people. The Tenant Leadership Project works to reintegrate tenants of Lakefront’s supportive housing back into civic and community life by teaching leadership skills and focusing directly on issues that affect their lives. In learning leadership skills, tenants make important steps in developing the confidence to re-enter community life and achieve other life goals.
In the past few Miriam Women in Action (MWA) meetings, we have talked about the desire to build a positive community and sense of connectionwith neighbors at the Miriam. No sooner had we mentioned our goal then the chance to make a huge impact on the Miriam arose; Miriam Women in Action has the opportunity to create a mural in the community room!
A recent traveling mural, painted by Lakefront Case Managers, was so popular that it provided inspiration for something new and exciting at the Miriam. When staff related this positive experience to Miriam Women in Action, we knew this was just the kind of project that we were looking for. We teamed up with Christine Makarewicz, the art therapist, to begin our own process of creativity and teamwork.
Over a series of meetings the women explored their feelings and herstories.
In order to find some common themes we asked a few questions to get the conversation started:
How would you like to portray the Miriam? What does the Miriam mean to you?
What theme would you like for the mural? What is the message that you would like to get across?
This conversation was amazing and inspiring. Here are just a few comments:
· The Miriam is about starting over again. We work with each other to help build each other up. We go through many trials and tribulations, but they are building blocks in our lives; stepping stones to use to better ourselves.
· There is so much diversity in the women. Everyone goes through different things at different times. There is a herstory. Stepping stones build toward each person's goals.
· Individuals work together to create change.
· The Miriam is unique because it’s an all women’s building.
· We all need help.
· We have to build one another up.
· I love me by making the right choices for myself.
· If you don’t like something, CHANGE IT!
From that conversation we began to get some ideas about possible themes: You’re on your way You’re getting there Independent women’s housing Peace, Happiness, and Joy Truth, Honesty, Integrity Miriam Women---They’ve got Class!! Then to now—working on change Old me/new me Transformed!! Positiveness and responsibility Do what God wants you to Peace and Transformation New adjustments Go forth and make a change!
We reviewed the themes and ideas expressed at the last meeting. Then we asked ourselves;
What symbols or pictures came to mind when we heard those ideas?
· A before and after picture- paint a picture of despair and loneliness · Start out with a woman out on the streets and/or on a park bench and show her progression to the Miriam and happiness · The Miriam is a place to help better yourself · Show a woman going through the process of being on the streets; going through the shelters; talking to case managers; getting to the Miriam; and then in a business suit with a good job · The KEY expresses a lot; PICTURE OF A KEY · Have positive messages and inspiring words wrapping around a tree · Homeless women carry the weight of the world on their backs · Globe over her shoulder; baggage; bags; wrinkled clothing · When you get the key the load is off; everything is lifted from you; you can stand up straight; iron your clothes · Birds can lead the way · Birds represent peace, freedom, and release · There can be notes or messages along the way · Stepping stones · Make a story run through the picture
TITLE: Peace, Happiness, and Joy; Miriam Women-They’ve Got Class
Where do we begin? This is the last shot of the wall before we painted. It was so exciting to walk into the room and see everything set up just waiting for us to get started. It had felt like this was never going to happen. Finally, the floors were protected with paper, and the table was FILLED with all colors of paint. There were more paintbrushes then we knew what to do with. It was all a little overwhelming. We had worked so hard preparing for this moment and at that point the wall seemed HUGE.
Settling Our Nerves
Now is the opportunity for our imaginations, thoughts and true feelings to really grow. Sensing our apprehension, Christine helps us feel comfortable with the wall and reminds us that the sketches are just a beginning. Our only limit is ourselves. We can paint with whatever combination of colors, and put new ideas in and take other sketches out as we go along.
Every Woman Has a Role
Vera had said that she did not want to paint. She was just going to watch. Christine, in a moment of creativity, persuaded Vera to simply hold up her hand in front of the light so that it cast a shadow on the wall. Christine then used Vera's hand as a model to sketch the centerpiece of the mural, the hand that holds the key to a home.Vera was hooked; she stayed the rest of the day! She left realizing that each person is an important part of this project.
In our first planning meetings we had decided that we needed to develop better relationships and a feeling of community between neighbors. The mural is one step toward that goal. The idea is that by working together, we will build the relationships that will allow us to pursue common goals both within the building and in the broader community.Before we got started painting, we reminded ourselves of this goal.
Energy in a Tight Space
There was SO MUCH ENERGY in this little space. We all learned lessons in courtesy and respect that day. Each artist had to be considerate of the others and share space on the wall together; all important themes in building community.
The Park Bench- Familiar Territory
The bench symbolizes the despair and lonliness many women who experience homelessness feel. The park bench is the beginning of our mural journey. There is a woman, sketched in pencil, sitting on the bench. As Josey and Angie were painting, Josey made the comment that "that woman sitting on the bench reminds me of myself when I was homeless."
My Symbol; Our Mural
Rosa begins the masterpiece of her sun. Debra puts her own touch on the inspirational piece; the hand that will hold the KEY! Debra is known throughout the building for her beautiful artwork on nails, and the look of the hand's nailpolish was very important to her.
Growing in Strength
The globe, which will eventually depict a woman with the world on her shoulders, is starting to take shape. The hope inspired by the sun and hand are growing in strength. It was remarkable the way each woman was drawn toward the symbol that held the most meaning for them.
Week 2: Rosa makes some changes to HER sun. She leaves her mark on the mural and the Miriam.
Patricia began to paint the buildings. She wanted the buildings to have individual character. She is already planning how to make them "come to life".
Deborah's Tree of Life
Deborah painted the entire tree of life after a little hesitation.At first, she didn't even think she would come into the room. Then she swore she couldn't paint. Next thing we all knew the tree of life had grown into existence.
The Supervisor! Corinne has yet to paint, but her presence is irreplaceable. Corinne advises us on which paint colors to use, spots we missed, and lively conversations. When there is a good song on the radio, she stops us so we notice the lyrics that really hit home.
End of Week Two
Recently, there have been times of crisis in the building and the mural has proven to be a point of unification. The group has been able to focus attention and energy to the mural, to take a break from the stress and trauma in other areas of life. Symbols are starting to take shape. The stepping stones are beginning to lead to a path of happiness. End of week 2.
Deborah came to the community room an hour early this week. She had had a tough day and told Christine that she just needed to do some painting. By the time she was tired,Deborah had painted all of the grass and quite a few of the stepping stones.She was also in better spirits.
Characters Come to Life
The building looked like it was crying. As Patty was painting the black building the paint began to run in the windows. Just as she was getting ready to wipe the paint off, she stopped and stepped back. This was just the touch she was looking for. As she painted the other buildings, she let the paint run. These buildings were beginning to look cold, mean, and sad all at the same time. Patty said this is also how they felt.
The Journey Continues
The path away from homelessness is growing stronger. This week the stepping stones lead the woman with the world on her shoulders with words of inspiration and encouragement.The key to home is in sight. Personal touches have added to the symbolism and meaning of the mural.
The outline of the woman, who symbolizes homelessness and hopelessness, comes to life.Josey is drawn to this scene in particular. Josey paints this woman in silhouette. She is faceless. She exists but is not SEEN.
Week 4 Milestone: Collaboration
This portion of the mural inspired the most collaberation as all of the women identified with this image. As we add more layers of paint, we are constantly checking back with one another for advice and opinions for each section. Debra L. mixed the color for the woman's boots, which she named "drab". Deborah G. suggested that the bench be painted a brighter brown so that it is more distinguishable from the woman's cloak.
Buildings Dripping With Emotion
Patty said that all while she was homeless she never cried, but the buildings portray that emotion for her. She said that when she was homeless the buildings felt hostile and cold. She expressed that in her painting by the uninviting signage on the buildings and having the paint drip down the wall. The running paint symbolizes tears.
Be Strong; Love Yourself
These sayings inspired not only the woman in the mural, but the women in the room.The original idea for the tree of life included inspirational quotes to encourage the homeless woman on her journey to happiness.
Stepping Stones on a Journey To HOME
When she first came into the room Deborah didn't even want to paint. This week she helped other painters mix more intense colors, gave pointers on layering paint, and added some touches to the stepping stones that she has been working on. Her growing confidence and painting technique were the stepping stones that led Deborah into a stronger sense of community with the other women.
Debra's Hand Holds the Key
Debra L. has taken ownership of the key and hand. As she adds more detail, the symbol begins to mean more to her. She realizes that having a home create options like the small luxury of painting your nails that were impossible during homelessness.
"The key symbolizes having a place to call your OWN.
The key is having something that is YOURS alone!"
The women agreed that the key was the most important symbol in the mural. The ribbons add a sense of individuality and identity- I am no longer invisible.
From Outside Looking In to Inside Looking Out
The mural now has a feeling of hope. The scenes of loneliness have finally moved into scenes of belonging. Because the women identified with the scenes in the mural it seemed a natural step to portray their own faces in the final scene. The group decided to put pictures of the participants in the windows of the building.
Patty, the artist of the buildings, agreed with the group that the buildings "tears" looked more like running paint. This week she added literal teardrops to make her statement more powerful. As the mural took shape it was no longer "one person, one symbol" but a group of people adopting each others' symbols in order to weave a shared story.
The Great Part About Painting
Art, like life, is always transforming. The great part about painting is that you are never finished- you can always make changes. This week we worked together on improving color and clarity.
Rosa Ventures Into New Territory
At the beginning of this session Rosa was sitting off to the side just watching everyone paint. Angie asked her "Rosa, are you unsure what to do next now that your sun is done?" "EXACTLY", was her response. After completing her first step, the many options for next steps were a little overwhelming.
Messages of Freedom
As when she first moved into the Miriam, Rosa had many new choices. She decided to add the bird that was leading the woman and bringing her messages of hope. When she was getting ready to paint the bird, she stopped and told Christine that it looked too small and like a flying sea lion. Rosa took the pencil and eraser and got to work. At the end of the day, Rosa had completed her bird; from sketches to painting. More choices to come...
The Green Door
Angie, Christine, and Sheri all worked together to mix the paint color. When we finished, it was so perfectly matched to the door of the building that we thought we would offer to touch up the doors in the building with our color.
Sherrie had been involved in all of the planning meetings when we came up with the theme, but she hadn't yet been to any of the painting sessions. Sherrie said that the reason she came back was that she saw that the painting was actually happening, and she never thought it would. Sherrie said that her grandma might be coming to visit her. Sherrie wanted to do some painting so that her grandma could see what she has been doing with herself and could be proud of her.
Sherrie painted the curtains free hand. Each and every curtain has individual character and flair, just like the women who reside in those apartments.
Ruby Red slippers sing out "There's No Place like Home!" As Angie was painting the woman's shoes, Deborah suggested that she make them red. Christine remembered that she had some glitter to really make them shine. Everyone agreed that Ruby Red slippers were appropriate and fun!
When Deborah first began she swore she wasn't even going to paint. This week, Deborah came down early and painted for 2 hours. She personalized the other tree in the mural. She figured out how to mix the paints with different colors to give the leaves depth and shape.
Deborah said that she was inspired to make adjustments to the rocks she painted.She had walked past them time and again over the past few weeks, and she noticed that the words of inspiration were not as clear as she had hoped. This week she repainted them so that they were easier to read.
This mural has brought people together who normally wouldn't have gotten to know each other.
For me, I started going to Christine's art therapy group. Christine has been here for three years and we have continued to grow. Now we have a tight little group. The art class is like a lifeline. If you don't show up for class for a few weeks the others in the group will start asking around to see how you are and eventually will come to check on you.
I got interested in the mural when Christine mentioned it in art class. I didn't think it would actually happen. It is such a nice idea and it will remain there forever. What kept me coming were the better connections that I made with people.Debbie wasn't interested in participating, but I convinced her to come and at least watch, and now she is one of the leading painters.
It is nice that the "Miriam Ladies" are working together. I call the women who live at the Miriam, "Miriam Ladies." Everyone who lives at the Miriam, no matter what age, has already been through so much trauma. It's important that we all get to work together and develop a support for one another.
In the beginning, the despair of homelessness settled on the woman sitting on the park bench with her basket, looking at the vacant buildings that say “no bums allowed”.The scene shows how society feels about homeless people; they assume that the homeless person has never tried to help themselves and they don’t consider that something may have happened to them to make them become homeless.A series of circumstances puts you there, and it could happen to anyone when there’s no one to help and no compassion.There is a story for every person.You can’t put them in a category.
Hand with the Key:
It’s about hope, freedom, independence and Self-awareness.You get to know more about yourself when you’re in your own space.
“I sleep with my keys.I can’t leave my keys; even when I take a bath I make sure they’re in my hand.I make noise with them.They exist!When I first got to Chicago I only had one key.Now I have many.It’s my identity.It’s a safety net.They prove I exist!”
The ribbons on the keyrepresent joy, happiness, excitement.When I got my keys, I had to put something on it to be “my keys”—something to symbolize yourself and how you feel about your place.
Things are getting brighter.When you get your key to the Miriam to start a new life and have hope, things get better.It was dark and gloomy before.
It’s a brighter day.It gives you hope, enthusiasm.You actually feel good, like something is actually happening instead of the clouds.
Being free, taking flight.Use your imagination.Let your dreams take flight.
Windows on the Building:
Everyone who lives here is a unique person.Here we have the option to decorate our rooms with our own choice.Dare to change because it’s a big change; I was used to being handed everything before, and now I’m in a situation to CHOOSE everything!
You never think about those little things until you get your own house.Things that are pretty--- it makes you feel good.Now you have something else to work on other than finding your next place to go.
The Red Shoes:
Ruby red slippers like in the Wizzard of Oz, “There’s no place like home”
The Stepping Stones:
As you go on your way, the sun becomes brighter and you reach out.You have a key in your hand and a chance to become a Miriam woman and have a different and new reality.The stepping stones behind her are obstacles she overcame.You’re on your way to a new beginning.
Woman with the Atlas on Her Back:
We feel like the weight of the world is on our shoulders.You’re lost and invisible to the world, even though you carry all of your stuff.They don’t care if you look good or bad or feel good or bad. I didn’t want to be seen in those conditions.It’s nothing you ever imagined or want.You wear stuff that was given to you even if it doesn’t fit or look right, but you have to wear it to keep yourself together.
Thoughts about Working on the Mural (Many People in a Small Space):
I don’t want to go down that road (homelessness) again.Once you feel secure, you can work on that next step.So far I’ve only been able to work on not being homeless.
Sometimes painting was about painting to get your mind off your problems and getting away from people.
I don’t know what it was like; I just tuned out .When I tuned back in, it was time to leave.
"I have to paint that building: it's annoying me. Every time I walk past it I notice that it's not finished and I just HAVE to finish it." Vera had not come down to paint since the first day we began the mural and she modeled her hand. She noticed a piece of the building that needed to be painted that no one else had noticed. The flexibility and openness of the group allows for women to participate when they are moved to do so.
Rosa painted another bird to guide the homeless woman on her path. This time Rosa has adjusted the shape of the bird. We've all learned that each time we approach the wall we bring a new understanding of our skills and talents. She painted the bird white to symbolize hope, freedom and peace.
Making the Miriam A Home
Paula's attention to detail has brought personal touches to the building. She paints a lamp on a table in the window of the building. Everyone commented that the lamp made the building look like HOME, not just an all women's building.
Our Symbol; Our Mural
As the end of the mural draws near, we paint the first scene. The individual symbols begin to mesh together into group projects as each woman painted a piece of the "start here" wall. Rosa and Geraldine work at the same time in the same space negotiating with each other and blending their work together. On the other side of the wall Paula is painting the "story" of the mural.
A Community Grows
Excitement is growing as the mural gets closer to completion and the party to celebrate draws nearer. The community room bustled with activity this week as new members of the Miriam Community picked up the paintbrushes. The mood in the room had the comfortable ease of women who understood and supported each other. Women were able to paint for a while, take a break, ask others' opinions, then paint a new part. This is what the project is all about.
I painted the sun because I wanted to be the center of attention and to stand out and make a difference.The sun symbolizes those aspects for me.It is a positive focus point of every person’s life.The sun reaches new heights and goes beyond the limitations of what people expect from each individual.It just brightens up the room and brings about positive energy and I wanted to be the one to paint that.After I got through with the sun I felt I was done.
I was persuaded to paint the birds because the mural needed more signs of freedom and hope.At first I didn’t like painting the birds, but after my second one I started to like it.The birds symbolize freedom, free spirit, and no limits.