The art project involved designing and fabricating two outdoor courtyards at Augustus F. Hawkins Comprehensive Mental Health Center in South Los Angeles. The two 4,225SF courtyards provide controlled outdoor exposure for patients and are part of LAC USC Psychiatric Rehab Services. The design is a series of colorful mountains with birds flying over them. The mountain wrap two walls to create an immersive environment for the patients. The design is intentionally graphic in nature, accounting for the uneven surfaces and making it possible to have patients contribute to its fabrication.
Integration was a critical component of the project, both from a design perspective as well as its fabrication. While the project needed to bring color and life to spaces used multiple times daily by patients and staff, it also required engaging the patients throughout the process. The Recreation Therapists had clear goals outlined and would be able to use the painting as a way to assess and help heal their patients.
The design had to accommodate several parameters. The concrete walls are ribbed so any high resolution image would be lost in the the flutes. The design had to consider the varying functioning levels of the patients. Some patients required maximum supervision with no more than fifteen minutes attention span while others could paint detailed areas with minimal supervision. The design needed to be flexible because it was critical that patients did not feel as if they had “painted outside of the lines”. The design also needed to account for the limited time and budget available to paint the two large courtyards.
Collaboration made the project possible. After multiple meetings with the Los Angeles County Arts Commission and the Supervisor of the Recreation Therapy department, we developed a Patient Engagement Plan that outlined a strategy for involving patients in all aspects of the murals' fabrication. Each day a group of patients were to come out in one hour shifts, beginning at 9am and ending at 4pm. They started by helping prime in preparation for painting. They would move around the mountains, painting within arm's reach and under the supervision of their Recreation Therapists. As the artist, I would stay near the patients, encouraging them and reinforcing their contribution to the mural's overall success. The time before and after the patients participation would allow us to paint the high areas and do touch-up.
As more color was put down and the patients' excitement grew, we saw doctors, psychiatrists and nursing students come out to help paint and be part of the mural's process. The transformation of the courtyards brought on a positive reaction in both the patients and the staff long before the murals completion.
I wanted birds flying over the mountains but knew they would become distorted due to the ribbed concrete surfaces. The origami crane provided the perfect solution since it is fragmented by its series of folds. Senbazuru is Japanese for one thousand origami cranes. They are given as a measure of good luck or to loved ones in the hospital. I taught the Recreation Therapists how to fold cranes so they could teach their patients, helping to building a sense of ownership over the courtyards.
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