By SUSAN JONES
Tim Holler’s mural project in Mt. Pleasant is about to see the light of day.
Holler, an assistant professor of Criminal Justice at Pitt–Greensburg, is also the director of the Community Arts Reintegration Project (CARP), which is designed to help juvenile probationers and adult parolees find their place in society again.
Seven “justice-involved youth” took part in four paint days in the spring and summer, Holler says, and about 70 community members and Pitt personnel — including faculty, staff and students from Holler’s restorative justice classes and club — contributed about 20 hours of work on the paint-by-numbers mural designed by Bernie Wilke, an art history professor at Westmoreland County Community College.
The mural “History Leaves an Impression,” which is 15 feet high by 40 feet long and shows the history that influenced Mt. Pleasant, will be dedicated at 10 a.m. Oct. 6 at Westmoreland Community Action’s American Architectural Salvage building at 23 W. Main St.
“We’ve had a lot of praise from the community,” Holler said, “because of the way this process is and the fact it can bring so many groups together for a common cause.”
Holler, who has a Ph.D. in criminology, said revitalization is an important topic, especially in Westmoreland County.
“There’s been some flight, people moving out of these area, so the communities aren’t as tight knit,” he said. “So that’s what we’re trying to do — revitalization, community building and then the justice piece of it is in addition to those things.”
The juvenile probationers fit right in during the painting, Holler says. “I don’t think most of (the community members) probably realized these kids were on juvenile probation.
“The community was great; a lot of my students had conversations with (the kids) about college. … That was really our goal — to get them connected and show that there is a community behind them that actually cares about them.
In grad school at Indiana University of Pennsylvania, Holler learned about the Philadelphia Mural Arts Program, which started out 30 years ago as an anti-graffiti program, but has blossomed into a multi-faceted mural program to help parolees reintegrate into society.
“There were a lot of revitalization programs going on in Westmoreland County. I knew I wanted to do something with reintegration, because I’m a criminal justice professor,” Holler says. He wanted to target programs that would help parolees not become re-offenders — “People who need that kind of reintegration into society, who have spent some time behind bars and feel like they’re not really connected to their community.”
Originally, Holler had hoped to get adult parolees involved in the Mt. Pleasant project, but some community members were concerned about that plan. But Holler says that the parolees were coming back to the community anyway, “and this would have given them something to do.”
So for this pilot project, Holler and CARP decided to focus on juveniles who had required community service hours to complete. Kristine Demnovich, who is a supervisor at Westmoreland Juvenile Probation, has taught a couple classes for Holler on the Pitt–Greensburg campus, and she helped hook him up with the students, most of whom were from the Mt. Pleasant area.
“We’re trying to get kids specifically that are from the areas we’ll be putting the murals,” said Holler, who is looking at New Kensington for the next mural project. Westmoreland Community Action is also involved in projects in the New Kensington area and will partner up with CARP for another mural.
The program has been in the planning for two years, with support from the Community Foundation of Westmoreland County.
The Mt. Pleasant community input came in the form of “restorative circles,” in which residents and the juveniles were asked what they’d like to see in a mural “that’s going to be around for a long time and a lot of people are going to want to buy into and be a part of,” Holler says.
From those meetings, Wilke, who used to work with the Mural Arts Program in Philadelphia, came up with a design. He says it’s a “compilation of different images that represent different aspects of Mt. Pleasant history. They’re woven together and surrounded by colorful leaves that we thought were an appropriate image for the town because it’s such a nature-based place.”
The focal point is the Doughboy statue that stands in the center of town, but Wilke added some color — green — to make him “somewhat living in a way.”
The Whiskey Rebellion is represented, along with the crossroads where two Native American trails meet and Mt. Pleasant was formed. There also are some more modern images representing glass-blowing, the Mt. Pleasant Glass Festival and Veterans Park.
“I was a good fit because this is something I’ve been doing for a long time and I especially have a heart for restorative justice,” says Wilke, who has taught in prisons.
Courtney DeCarlucci, who works as a grant writer at Pitt–Greensburg, has helped get funding for the project from groups like the Community Foundation of Westmoreland County Impact Fund, affiliated with the Pittsburgh Foundation; The McKinney Charitable Foundation, through the PNC Charitable Trusts; and Westmoreland Community Action.
The CARP program is run through the Center for Applied Research at Pitt–Greensburg, which gets faculty, staff and students involved in community-based research. Holler will be writing about the mural project for The Prison Journal, which is edited by one of his mentors at IUP.
Susan Jones is editor of the University Times. Reach her at email@example.com or 412-648-4294.