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ArtsPath Residency Assists At-Risk Youth in Butler County

Mars Residency

ArtsPath visual artist and painter Bernie Wilke recently completed a highly successful residency at the Mars Home for Youth in Mars, Pennsylvania. The youth created a mural, which will be unveiled at the first-ever MHY Historical Tour and Open House—free and open to the public—on Saturday, October 1, 2011, from 10:00 a.m. to noon.

The Mars Home for Youth has been serving the greater Pittsburgh region for over 130 years, evolving from the care of orphans by members of the Fourth United Presbyterian Church of Allegheny City, to caring for children from broken homes in the early to mid-1920s, to the current mission of caring for the special needs of troubled and abused children and youth. This setting of providing a sanctuary to help youth ages eleven to eighteen heal and cope with psychological and social traumatic experiences was the perfect setting for ArtsPath artist Bernie Wilke to employ the healing power of art in a ten-day residency.

The thirty-five youths participating in the residency were involved in every aspect of the five-by-sixteen-foot mural, including research on the Mars Home for Youth history, brainstorming and creating the design, and then finishing with painting the mural. Although the initial plan was to tell the history of the home, the students selected a design that shows others their experiences at the MHY, one that highlights their journey as they move from dark to light. In the end, they simply had a desire for others to understand them as important members of the community.

Bernie Wilke

Said Judy Rodgers, the Mars Home for Youth director of Development, “They wanted people to know what the home is there for and what it is like to be here, so we were delighted to let it quickly evolve from our idea on the home’s history to their project and story.”

Through various exercises to help find a theme, identify the emotions they wished to show, decide on color choices, etc., Wilke discovered that “These students really have a lot of ideas and creativity.” When asked about his artistic vision for the mural, Wilke said, “I never go into a project such as this with a preconceived idea of its outcome. It has to come from the kids.”

His relaxed and mentoring style of instruction guided the students, but yet allowed them to think on their own in making creative choices, and was in no small part a major contribution to the success of the residency. Said one resident, “I like him because he explains and gives ideas, but the kids can do their own thing,” while another mentioned that the project showed her a new way to express her emotions.

Artist Bernie Wilke has been an artist on the state directory of teaching artists through ArtsPath for over six years and has established himself as a visual artist who is committed to using his talents in a community setting. After completing his B.A. in visual arts from Antioch College, Bernie received his M.F.A. degree in studio art from Indiana University of Pennsylvania in May 2001.

Since then, Bernie has completed over fifty-five collaborative mural projects in places such as schools, community centers, nursing homes, and churches. Also an active teacher, he has taught painting, drawing, color, 2-D design, and art history at many types of institutions, including two colleges, a correctional institution, and a guidance center.

Bernie spent 2005–2010 in Philadelphia, where, in addition to teaching art classes with several arts organizations, he was an active artist for the Mural Arts Program. Part of his vision is to continue to utilize the power of art to build community and cultivate social healing.

The residency was brought to the Mars Home for Youth by ArtsPath, the arts-in-education arm of the Lively Arts in the College of Fine Arts at IUP and in partnership with the Pennsylvania Council on the Arts. Further contributions to the project were made by the Pittsburgh-based law firm of Cohen & Grigsby.

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