Arlington mural is an outlet for at-risk teens

ARLINGTON — They are turning the drab, dirty gray wall into a colorful story.

Seven teens are working on a mural near Haller Park. The images chronicle the history of Haller City as it became Arlington. They show the changing times, from Native Americans canoeing on the Stillaguamish River to airplanes flying over the city.

The mural is also about changes in the lives of the artists.

The teens are part of Promising Artists in Recovery, or PAIR, an eight-week program for at-risk youth who have had dealings with the Denney Juvenile Justice Center.

“We like to build relationships with kids while giving back to the community,” PAIR program coordinator Henri Wilson said.

The Arlington mural covers two walls of a city building at the corner of Haller and West avenues. It’ll be a landmark along the Centennial Trail near Haller Park, Wilson said.

PAIR artist Damara Bell-Shank, 15, carefully painted the blues and greens of the Stillaguamish River below a colorful canoe Monday. Working on the mural is soothing, she said.

“It gives you something to do, and it’s just peaceful,” Damara said. “I just kind of lose myself in it.”

Guy Cadwallader, 18, has worked on murals before, but the Arlington one is the largest he’s ever done.

Through PAIR, he found support when he needed it most and learned where he might want to go in the future. Cadwallader thinks he’d enjoy being an art teacher, though he hasn’t finalized his plans.

“PAIR opened a lot of opportunities for me,” he said. “It broadens the spectrum of my creativity, and the connections I’ve made in the community are unbelievable. There are a lot of people who want to see young people do well.”

Camano artist Jill Mattison designed the Arlington mural, which was traced onto the wall at night using overhead projectors. She helps the teens paint and works with them to blend their distinct styles into a cohesive mural.

“It’s a great group effort. It’s very rewarding to work with teenagers,” Mattison said. “They’re really eager to paint and they follow directions well, but they get really excited to add their own ideas to it.”

The group has worked on the mural for six days and plans to continue until it’s finished, likely next week.

The teens learn a variety of art forms through the PAIR program, including basket weaving, calligraphy and photography. Artists volunteer to teach the classes, and local officials, including judges, participate in some of the activities.

Part of the program’s success is that it connects teens to the community when they feel alone and misunderstood, Wilson said.

“I don’t think of them as not mainstream, but they don’t feel mainstream,” she said. “Sustained relationships come out of this, so maybe when they need someone, someone’s there.”

The Arlington mural is one of a number of public art projects in the city, said Sarah Arney, president of the Arlington Arts Council. Murals became a way of combating graffiti and vandalism after a meeting with the Arlington Police Department last year, she said.

The mural is on an old Arlington Public Works building not far from where the north and south forks of the Stillaguamish meet.

“It’s a pretty key historical location for Arlington,” Arney said, noting that Native Americans and white settlers brought people and supplies along the river to the area that is now Haller Park. “The history of Arlington really started there by the river.”

Donated money and materials made the mural possible, Arney and Wilson said. Rodda Paint Co. and Hatloes Carpet One and Paint in Everett donated paint, while funding came from the Howarth Trust, Arlington Rotary, the Terry and Cheryle Earnheart Fund for Children, and Charlotte Unger.

“It’s kind of magical, really,” Arney said. “I just think it’s cool for the young people to work with a professional artist and produce something they can be proud of.”

Kari Bray: 425-339-3439; kbray@heraldnet.com.

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