In the past year the west wall of the Northeast Portland Renal Center on Northeast Seventh Avenue at Hancock Street has undergone a dramatic change, from solid white to an explosion of color. Its many images each convey a message, while the total enterprise, the work of many people, meets so many purposes.
Under the direction of muralist Robin Corbo, the artwork depicts healthy lifestyles as a way to avoid kidney and other disease later in life. It depicts healthy sleeping, eating, work and play, while incorporating Portland landmarks such as Mt. Hood.
The overall vision was Corbo’s but, she says, much of the detail was supplied by the young people who helped her do the work – students from the Portland Occupational Industrial Center’s Mary Anderson High School. It was their idea, for instance, to show sunrise on the north end of the mural and a moon on the south end, and their idea to include snow-boarding as one of the activities. Also, most of the faces on the wall are portraits of the students, or other people associated with the project.
“We made a white, sketchy wall into something beautiful,” clinic manager Annette Arnold said at the mural’s dedication last month. “It’s about making good choices, about being happy to be alive. We can make artwork out of our lives. We’re saying, ‘I’m going to make a difference in my family and my community.”
The project started with Arnold, and the original motive was to discourage the taggers who regularly defaced the wall – “I was tired of repainting it,” she said. Along the way she gained partners that included the Multi-Cultural Kidney Education (MIKE) program, a non-profit which teaches the benefits of a healthy lifestyle to youth. Together they secured a grant from the Regional Arts and Culture Council (RACC) for the project. They recruited Corbo, whose work includes a mural on North Interstate Avenue, to bring it about. She, and MIKE’s Deborah Schwisow, recruited 45 POIC students to do the work. An equal number of volunteers, from various walks of life, assisted, Corbo says. Painting began on July 4 and was completed in late August.
In addition to RACC, other financial contributors included the African-American Chamber of Commerce and the Irvington Community Association. The Diversities Specialties Institute contributed supplies and food for the painters.
At the August 30 dedication, commissioner Amanda Fritz, state representative Debra Kafoury, and representatives of the offices of Affirmative Action and Multi-Cultural Health, spoke about what the mural represented. “This speaks to everything that’s good about this city,” Fritz said. “It’s so rich and vibrant, and it’s there because of so many people. So many people can say, ‘But for me this wouldn’t have happened,’ but no one can say, ‘I did this myself.’ Vandals will be ashamed to touch it, because they know they won’t be able to do anything as beautiful.”
“It was a very empowering project for everyone involved, myself included,” Corbo says.