If you live in Southwest Colorado, a few of your teenage neighbors have made your corner of the state a little more beautiful.
Twenty-nine students in Archuleta, Dolores, La Plata, Montezuma and San Juan counties in partnership with Rise Above Colorado, an organization collaborating with public health leaders in Southwest Colorado, have elevated youth voices and behavioral health through public art. Rise Above Colorado is a statewide drug-prevention organization providing Colorado’s teens with information, resources and healthy lifestyle alternatives to help them choose a life free of drug abuse.
Funded through a grant provided by the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment’s Office of Public Health Practice, Planning and Local Partnerships, this is a first of its kind initiative involving teens in five Southwest Colorado counties. The initiative worked with San Juan Basin Public Health and other public health departments and partners to paint murals connected by the theme of “resilience” and the “#IRiseAbove” hashtag that celebrates the positive healthy choices youths make. This work coincides with Rise Above Colorado’s “Fill Your World With Good” campaign, which highlights research showing that most Colorado teens aren’t using drugs and are choosing instead to embrace things like art and community building.
The regional project began in March when each county’s local health department partnered with Rise Above Colorado to engage local youths to help the world better understand the idea of “resilience.” Teens from each county participated in a group discussion about their ideas and created county-specific designs. Rise Above Colorado spent the whole month of June traveling around Southwest Colorado painting the murals in partnership with the youths who inspired each image.
“It was so exciting to be able to paint the mural. Being able to come together and create something kind and beautiful for our town was amazing,” said Pagosa teen Desiray Martin. “It meant a lot being able to participate in such a wonderful project. We had so much fun putting all of our ideas together and being able to explore all of our hidden artistic talents.”
The ominous news cycles of the last year have been hard on everyone but particularly on young people. Painting murals with the theme of resilience highlights a positive characteristic of our region and gives local teens an outlet to express themselves through art. The content and themes depicted in the murals come directly from local youths who were active participants in the painting of each piece of art.
“The people that live in Southwest Colorado are incredibly resilient, whether facing challenges like drought or a once-in-a-lifetime pandemic,” said Adrian Uzunian, director of Public Health Innovation at SJBPH. “After a challenging year, these murals provided an outlet for youth to interpret what resilience means to them and to give them the space to remind community members where our strength lies.”
If you haven’t seen them, go on a scavenger hunt to find these special art pieces! They will be lasting reminders of our perseverance through a truly challenging year.
Archuleta: Yamaguchi Park, Pagosa Springs.
Dolores: Weber Park, Dove Creek.
La Plata: Southern Ute Behavioral Health Building, Ignacio.
Montezuma: Montezuma County Fairgrounds, Cortez.
San Juan: Blair Street, Silverton.
SJBPH was proud to work closely with neighboring health departments on this project and to follow the leadership of so many young people in our communities. We are stronger together and resilient in so many ways.
Paige Wagner, is the Thriving Communities program manager for San Juan Basin Public Health.