"The First Step" mural

"The First Step" mural

Juvenile Detention Center
WATCH: 1-minute video of mural production process.

Before anyone started painting during this winter break mural project, artists Maria Schirmer Devitt, Savannah StarlinChristina Theobald ran a series of workshops over two weeks with the purpose of building relationships with and amongst students, and to create a spirit of trust and openness about the creative process as the group began to collaborate toward a final mural design for the phone wall -- the space where students make phone calls to family, friends and advocates.

The workshops were sometimes collaborative, making a beautiful product that everyone had a hand in creating, and sometimes the projects were individual, highlighting individual difference and voices. 

The individual workshops included vision boarding for the new year, along with shoe concept and design. It was during these sessions that the students individual dreams and styles emerged. Whereas the collaborative workshops looked like mural brainstorming, exquisite corpse trading cards with inspirational messages on the back, group writing and illustrating for the mural, patterning for the mural. We also spent time playing with them in the gym and playing warm-up silly drawing games. This helped break the ice and create a spirit positive regard for each other. 

One of many "The First Step" mural visioning boards
"The First Step" design collage from first week
Draft digital design by Savannah Starlin

After two weeks of designing, the artists brought the students some more formal design drafts and they felt very comfortable sharing their very honest, and sometimes brutal, feelings thoughts and ideas for revisions. Most of the time there were differing opinions that we had to be negotiated and worked out among the whole group, making it very helpful to cull ideas that weren’t as important.

Several big decisions and changes were eventually made to the design throughout the process, including the addition of the symbolic stairwell adorned with an important MLK quote, but the group eventually agreed on the final design and was excited to start painting.

We painted with the students in small groups during the day often in groups of 2 or 3, and in the evenings when energy was slower, we would work sometimes with groups of 4-5. It was during these paint sessions that students shared advice with one another, their fears and worries, their own experiences, their dreams.

Juvenile Detention Center phone call wall
"The First Step" mural @ Dane County Juvenile Detention Center
"The First Step" mural production process
"The First Step" mural created by students at Dane County Juvenile Detention Center with artists Maria Schirmer Devitt, Savannah Starlin and Christina Theobald



"When I first walked in yesterday, I was surprised to see all the colors. I saw the quote and it gave me hope."
"When I see this, I see stairs to a new start in life."
"I had a dream we kept painting the wall and it became a powerful dragon. I feel happiness and pride when I see it."
“What I see is myself standing at the top of the stairs and not just taking the first step of faith…but a leap of faith into a new life and new doors opening…which shows that even though I am back in this situation I still have a chance to see new opportunities!”

A student says:

"I look at this mural every time I am on the phone. I like having this around me when I am talking with my family."