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'I CHOOSE RESPECT'

Posted: April 23, 2012 - 3:06am
Ati Nasiah, Prevention Manager for AWARE talks Thursday about finding a home for four 5x8 foot murals produced by teenagers involved in the Lead On! program and local artist Sarah Conarro.  Michael Penn / Juneau Empire
Michael Penn / Juneau Empire
Ati Nasiah, Prevention Manager for AWARE talks Thursday about finding a home for four 5x8 foot murals produced by teenagers involved in the Lead On! program and local artist Sarah Conarro.

In October 2010, a group of about 10 to 15 Juneau teenagers asked themselves how they could promote non-violence and equality in their community.

What they came up with was something beautiful — four colorful murals of the Juneau-Douglas Bridge, the downtown area, the Mendenhall Glacier and Eaglecrest Mountain.

On each of the separate wooden panels, surrounding the images of a raven, the mountains and a fishing boat, are powerful phrases that demonstrate how they choose respect and how Juneau chooses respect:

“I wait till my partner is ready.”

“I respect my own body.”

“I stay true to who I am.”

“I don’t settle.”

“I follow my instinct.”

“I trust myself.”

“I avoid peer pressure.”

“I set boundaries for myself.”

“I don’t do something I don’t want to do.”

“I don’t change for someone.”

“I follow my heart.”

“I choose respect.”

The group had just returned home, newly inspired, from a youth leadership mini-summit in Anchorage called “Lead On! For Peace and Equality in Alaska” hosted by the Alaska Network on Domestic Violence & Sexual Assault (ANDVSA).

The murals, which have sat in the basement of the AWARE shelter on Glacier Highway for about a year, are in need of a permanent home, AWARE Prevention Manager Ati Nasiah said in a recent interview.

KTOO radio offered to temporarily house the murals for the upcoming summer, but attempts for a permanent home have thus far been unsuccessful, Nasiah said.

“The right location hasn’t yet emerged,” Nasiah said. “We’ve just been kind of patient and throwing it out there in the community, and trusting that these will find the right home where they can be appreciated by the community members and help inspire people who continue to choose respect.”

It could have been easy to pick a project that focuses on the grim numbers surrounding domestic violence or sexual assault in Juneau — about 55 percent of women in Juneau have experienced domestic violence, sexual violence or both in their lifetimes, according to a survey by the University of Alaska.

But the teens wanted to focus on how the problem was being addressed locally and the positive things people are doing to fight against domestic violence and assault.

“We wanted to highlight all the great parts of our community,” said Angelina Biggness, 17, a junior at Thunder Mountain High School.

“Instead of trying to bring something new to Juneau, we wanted to bring into the light the positive things we already have,” 15-year-old Lily Baastrup, a TMHS freshman, said in a recent phone interview.

The mural project took the teenagers about eight months to complete and included endless hours of brain storming, grant writing and involving the community.

Once the group decided on the murals for their project, the next step was figuring out the logistics. How much materials would they need, and how much it would cost? How can the community become involved?

They ended up procuring about $2,000 for the project, Nasiah said. Contributors included a Community Arts Development grand from the Alaska State Council on the Arts, United Way and the ANDVSA.

The group then went to Juneau Douglas High School to ask students to fill out worksheets on how they choose and show respect, how they ask for help, how they set boundaries as well as why they love Juneau.

Some of those answers are the phrases that appear on the murals: “We are close-knit,” “My community loves me,” “We are like family,” “I help create a safe environment,” “I encourage others.”

The teens involved the community in the painting process, too. They hosted art events at the University and participated in a First Friday at the Juneau Arts and Humanities Council.

Then, they teamed up with local artist Sarah Conarro to help paint and polish the entire look of the murals.

“I don’t know how she did it, but she made it tie all together and look beautiful,” Biggness said.

The entire project was completed last June.

Nasiah, Baastrup and Biggness all said they hope the murals find a home in the public eye — some place where everyone can enjoy and appreciate all that’s good about Juneau.

“It was meant to highlight everything that’s great about the community,” Baastrup said. “I hope that the community can really enjoy it because it was made for them.”

• Contact reporter Emily Russo Miller at 523-2263 or at emily.miller@juneauempire.com.

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