As public art, murals can help build community, foster understanding, and share compelling stories while brightening up a streetscape or neighborhood. Such will be the case, organizers hope, with a mural project that gets underway this week at the Eagle’s Nest Clubhouse in Buena Vista. Eagle’s Nest, a program of Rockbridge Area Community Services (RACS), uses the clubhouse model of psychosocial rehabilitation to support individuals with severe mental illness as they work toward and maintain wellness.
Eagle’s Nest members and staff are partnering with Washington and Lee faculty members and students to bring the dream of a mural to a reality over the next few weeks. The project is expected to be completed by about May 15. An unveiling celebration is planned for the afternoon of Thursday, May 17, which the public is invited to attend.
“This has been a dream of mine for several years,” says Phil Floyd, manager of psychiatric rehabilitation services at RACS and longtime manager of Eagle’s Nest. “It will be an extraordinary experience for club members and students alike. They will work side by side, creating something that is beautiful, meaningful, and lasting as they learn about each other and perhaps even become friends. Students will learn about our members at a very personal, human level, and they will take deeper understanding with them wherever they go in life. That’s important.”
May is, appropriately for this project, National Mental Health Awareness month. But the collaborative effort is actually timed to coincide with W&L’s four-week spring term, during which students take a single intensive class. Three professors have integrated the mural project into their spring term classes: Karla Murdock, David G. Elmes Professor of Psychology; Andrea Lepage, associate professor of art history; and Kathleen Olson-Janjic, Pamela H. Simpson Professor of Art. Also lending expertise and time will be Ross McDermott, documentarian and former director of the Charlottesville Mural Project, who will not only assist with the process and production of the Eagle’s Nest Mural but will also create a video documentary.
The first step will be for participants to decide as a group how to visually express the journey toward wellness and recovery despite the challenges of mental illness. The result will form the central image of the mural. In addition, each participant—whether student, faculty member, Eagle's Nest club member, or RACS staff—will complete an individual square which will be incorporated into a border.
The mural will be located on an outbuilding behind the Eagle’s Nest building in Buena Vista. The City of Buena Vista, fully supportive of the effort, has not only issued the necessary permissions but also ensured that the city-owned alley area is in good shape for the project to begin.