The Emanuel Project builds hope in incarcerated youth

CEDAR CITY — As part of the Emanuel Project, passion and art united with incarcerated youth this month at Southwest Utah Youth Center. The 44-by-24-foot “Mural of Hope” — unveiled Tuesday at a luncheon at the facility — was created to empower the youth to have confidence in a bright future ahead.

"Mural of Hope," Southwest Utah Youth Center, Cedar City, Utah, Feb. 16, 2016 | Photo by Carin Miller, St. George News
“Mural of Hope,” Southwest Utah Youth Center, Cedar City, Utah, Feb. 16, 2016 | Photo by Carin Miller, St. George News

The unveiling was attended by members of law enforcement, the Iron County school board, youth center staff and administration, Iron County Children’s Justice workers, youth artists and others who were visibly excited to see the massive painting.

Using rectangular windows for eyes, artist Emanuel Martinez’s concept for the Southwest Utah Youth Center Mural of Hope speaks to those in the facility — many of whom had a hand in the mural’s creation — about envisioning the endless possibilities available in the future.

Five massive faces dominate the top portion of the mural, each wearing a different hat representative of various opportunities: a graduate, a nurse, a marine, a construction worker and a firefightes. These faces serve as a visual affirmation for a more positive outcome in the future for the youth.

A bald eagle soars across the horizon in the outdoor landscape included in the 40-foot "Mural of Hope" painted by Southwest Utah Youth Center youth, Cedar City, Utah, Feb. 16, 2016 | Photo by Carin Miller, St. George News
A bald eagle soars across the horizon in the landscape portion of the 40-foot “Mural of Hope” painted by Southwest Utah Youth Center youth, Cedar City, Utah, Feb. 16, 2016 | Photo by Carin Miller, St. George News

The landscape portrayed below the faces pays homage to the red rocks, greenery and wildlife found in the high mountain deserts of Southern Utah, adding inspiration and warmth to the youth center gymnasium.

Southwest Utah Youth Center houses minors ages 10 to 21 who are housed in either a secure care treatment program or detention center situation. The center also facilitates home detention and case management services programs for at-risk youth.

Assistant Program Director Jill McKinlay said the new mural is a welcome addition, adding that the gymnasium is often used as a gathering space for various events held at the facility, such as graduations.

McKinlay said that not only does such a project help to build the self esteem of the 20 students who participated in it, but it will live on for years after those students have moved on to better things and hopefully inspire others who see it.

Each student who participated in the creation of the Mural of Hope was awarded a certificate of recognition and completion for their role in the endeavor.

“Approximately 85 percent of this mural, they painted,” Martinez said. “I draw it on with some charcoal, and I mix their colors and direct it and tell them where to paint. But the vast majority of the painting has been done by these youth, and needless to say, they did a great job.”

Renowned artist Emanuel Martinez maps the course for a 44-by-24 foot mural to be painted by 20 Southwest Utah Youth Center students, Cedar City, Utah, Feb. 3, 2016 | Photo by Carin Miller, St. George News
Renowned artist Emanuel Martinez maps the course for a 44-by-24-foot mural to be painted by 20 Southwest Utah Youth Center students, Cedar City, Utah, Feb. 3, 2016 | Photo by Carin Miller, St. George News

McKinlay said at first the students were a little apprehensive, expecting Martinez to be a boastful artist-type full of himself, but after meeting the humble and quiet Martinez, they started to look forward to each time it was their turn to work on the project.

McKinlay added that even when a student made a mistake, Martinez took it in stride.

“He would just say, ‘Oh, okay. Well, let’s work on this section over here then. We’ll come back to that later and fix it.’”  

Martinez said the point is not to stress them out and pile on the pressure but rather to build a team of young people who are confident and full of self-worth so they begin to see themselves as these people being painting on the wall and believe that anything is possible.

Incarcerated youth at Southwest Utah Youth Center work together to paint a 44-by-24 foot mural, Cedar City, Utah, Date unspecified | Courtesy of the Southwest Utah Youth Center, St. George News
Incarcerated youth at Southwest Utah Youth Center work together to paint a 44-by-24-foot mural, Cedar City, Utah, Date unspecified | Courtesy of the Southwest Utah Youth Center, St. George News

Even though some of the kids in Southwest Utah Youth Center have made really big and bad mistakes, McKinlay said they are still kids, and they need to be inspired and taught how to make better choices so they can have a fruitful life when they leave the center.

Three students who participated in the mural spoke to the crowded room in the gymnasium Tuesday.

One young man said he loved to work with art because it is difficult to express himself with words, but when he creates something, the art can explain how he feels.

Another compared the process to having braces to fix his teeth, saying that at first there is just this blank canvas that is kind of a mess, but as time goes by and more work is done, something beautiful emerges that was not always easy but was worth the effort.

Southwest Utah Youth Center was the first of 48 youth correctional facilities to welcome artist Emanuel Martinez with a banner and ballons, Cedar City, Utah, Feb. 3, 2016 | Photo by Carin Miller, St. George News
Southwest Utah Youth Center was the first of 48 youth correctional facilities to welcome artist Emanuel Martinez with a banner and balloons, Cedar City, Utah, Feb. 3, 2016 | Photo by Carin Miller, St. George News

Martinez began working with incarcerated youth through the Emanuel Project five years ago. He said he became passionate about the project because art saved him from his own poor choices when he was an incarcerated youth himself.

This is the 48th mural to be painted with incarcerated youth nationwide, the fifth one in Utah. Of all of the places Martinez has traveled to work, he said that none have been so friendly and accommodating as those in Utah, especially Cedar City.

Click on photo to enlarge it, then use your left-right arrow keys to cycle through the gallery.

Email: cmiller@stgnews.com

Twitter: @STGnews

Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2016, all rights reserved.

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