Connecting communities through art

Recently, I was deeply touched while organizing “Adding Colour to Lives” from Park Inn by Radisson Hotels. The project launched in September and involves working with at-risk youth.

As part of this launch, we partnered with famous US mural artist Joel Bergner who is working around the world to help youth-at-risk through art. Joel has been working in countries like Brazil, Kenya, Jordan and Israel, and uses a method he calls Expressive Group Painting. This method challenges the youth to put their own thoughts and sentiments into art. The aim of this project is simple – to give a voice to those who generally go unheard, such as underprivileged kids, vulnerable youth, or refugees.

Our Brussels’ mural is 230 feet (70 meters) long and contains nine degraded aluminum doors on the façade of the largest train station in Brussels (Brussels Midi). Getting this project on the rails in just two months required an intense multi-stakeholder cooperation with the government owned train company NMBS/SNCB, the local city government and the local youth organizations.

The project has been hard work with long 14 hour working days for eight days straight; very specific technical requirements (ask me anything about outdoor wall paint on any surface) and the most horrendous rainy and stormy weather, but it has all been more than worth it.

The design is defined by the youth themselves. In a three-hour creative workshop, the youngsters expressed what is important to them, their neighborhood and their lives. From these ideas, the visual theme was chosen.

For eight days, we had an impressive creative crew of volunteers, including the youth joining us during the weekend and evenings after school, their parents and family members, a number of unemployed people from the area, social workers, team members of our Park Inn by Radisson hotels and of the Carlson Rezidor head office in Brussels, and even local homeless people. In total, we counted over 100 diligent participants.

Everyone could leave their creative mark on the mural through the small background images or by coloring in the geometrical patterns. Young and old were working jointly on the designs and bonding across cultures and backgrounds. At times they discovered their common language is Arabic, Spanish or simply art.

The mural tells the story of people from various countries arriving in Brussels with their bags and luggage. They are represented by the large portrait of Saïd, one of our volunteers, and are received by a warmly colored hand filled with welcome messages.

The next door tells us we need to take care of the homeless and needy in our communities. The middle section shows the hands actually belong to a person with two faces: one looking to the past and one to the future. They are portraits of two other young participants.

Then we move to a representation of ‘being at home’ and the culinary delights of the various cultures. On the seventh door, Mahbuka, one of the young teenage girls who worked with us, jumps off a hand to fly over a crowd of happy people on doors eight and nine. The small background images on these doors represent the richness all people and cultures bring to our society.

The next locations where Joel Bergner will create an “Add Colour to Lives” mural are Cologne, Germany, and Cape Town, South Africa. We are all very proud of this urban artwork which will leave a lasting impression on the neighborhood and participants’ lives. A real must see on your next trip to Brussels!