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Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Neighborhood House Street Mural

On a sunny Sunday afternoon in mid-September I stopped by Neighborhood House Rainier Vista to sketch. During the summer I had participated in the Horn of Africa Services (HOAS) street mural project, a five-week summer program that introduced local youth to the process of participating in a public art project by designing and painting a street mural in front in their own neighborhood. Because if my summer schedule I was only able to participate in the first three weeks. I knew the project had run into some delays and didn't know what to expect when I pulled up. So I was delighted to find the brightly painted street dazzling in the late afternoon sun.

Neighborhood House Rainier Vista with newly painted street mural

HOAS is a non-profit started back in the '90s by East African refugees. Its aim is to serve refugees and immigrants from Djibouti, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Sudan, Somalia and neighboring countries as they settle in the Seattle area. HOAS operates out of Neighborhood House Rainier vista, one of seven branches  scattered throughout the Seattle area.

The summer workshop invited youth ages 10-16 from the local neighborhood to participate. In addition to designing and painting the mural, the project supplied instamatic cameras for the participants to document their community and their experience with the project. Those photographs were displayed at the Columbia City Gallery in mid-August.

The first week of the project we introduced ourselves and told the group what kind of art we like to do. I was surprised to hear at least have of the youth say they liked to sketch best.

The leaders showed slides of different public art murals and discussed the various purposes, themes and styles. We traipsed through the surrounding neighborhood finding examples of murals and getting to know each other a bit more. There was Chau, Mares, Mustaquma, Hamda . . .

Pho Bac on Rainier Avaenue
Consejo Counseling and Referal Services on Angeline Street 

Former Darigold Headquarters on Rainier Avenue 

The next two weeks the group worked on the design elements, discussing themes, styles and messaging. A representative from the Seattle Department of Transportation, the approving agency for the project, gave a presentation and later edited the design.

Some negotiation was required before implementation could begin, giving the students the opportunity to complete an additional smaller garden mural.

But seeing the finished street mural gave me a sense of pride for the program, the leaders and the youth that participated. Its the kind of project I've always wanted to participate in and it was more than satisfying. As I sat sketching the finished mural in the September sun I felt connected to the neighborhood and the people who live there. A mother and child came up to ask me about the mural. "Some kids from the neighborhood painted it," I blurted. I couldn't help adding, "And I helped!"


  1. Wow. What an inspiring project. And you're part of it! Awesome Jane, I am honored to know you!

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