For Immediate Release
May 24, 2023 — Portland, Oregon
Art is healing — both for the artist and the viewer. That’s the central theme of a video released today by Portland’s metro area Regional Arts and Culture Council (RACC) featuring the work of three muralists who contributed their art to the Multnomah County Health Department’s Behavioral Health Resource Center (BHRC).
The film highlights the art and inspiration of Damon Smyth, Amirah Chatman, and Salomée Souag, three local artists of color with lived experience with mental health challenges and/or homelessness. All three artists created murals featured in prominent places throughout the BHRC, a day center that provides basic services and connections for people with mental health challenges who are living outside in downtown Portland.
Smyth is a comic book artist and emerging muralist. He painted the mural featured on the exterior north-facing wall of the BHRC. His mural, entitled The Pursuit of Nostalgia, is his first large public art commission. The mural showcases a series of panels that follow the journey of a young man as he encounters a variety of landscapes and animals.
Chatman, originally from the southwest, created a large-scale vinyl mural in the center’s first floor sitting area. Known as The Oasis, the artwork is based on the style of her pastel paintings. The mural includes abstract clouds in soft tones while a wide river on the left extends to the center where it meets a waterfall, offering moments of repose and serenity to anyone who views it. Chatman is hopeful about her art and the future of the BHRC. She hopes that the “BHRC sets out to do what it intended to do….I am hopeful it causes a ripple effect for the rest of the city.”
Finally, Souag’s artwork, entitled Healing from Within, is located in the center’s first floor courtyard space. Incorporating Souag’s hieroglyph-like design work, the mural shows abstract faces and uplifted hands placed against a backdrop of arches and floral shapes. Her mural reflects the importance of a space where the mind-body can find healing and long-term support.
About her mural, Souag says, “I can only hope that it gives people a sense of peace, a sense of hope, security, safety in such a hard time and challenging time we have to face.”
“We are so proud to share these artists’ stories with the community,” says Salvador Mayoral, RACC’s Senior Public Art Manager. “As advocates and champions for arts and culture, we recognize the impact of trauma-informed art for both the artist and those who experience the art.”
The three artists were selected by RACC, who manages the art plan for the center, Health Department representatives, and BHRC staff. All of the artworks in the building adhere to the center’s trauma informed guidelines.
“One of the real joys of this project has been witnessing the care, passion, and intention these artists have brought to their individual artworks,” says Mayoral who oversees installation of artworks. “The murals reflect the overall intention of the BHRC’s mission and spirit,” he says.
“Our hope is that this public art might assist in someone’s navigation processes to heal, recover, and overcome barriers to them seeking services,” he says.
Smyth adds, “This is a chance for people to feel welcomed and grow.”
The BHRC offers daily basic services and a safe place off the street to relax for people experiencing houselessness, substance use and/or mental health challenges. Services include toilets, showers, laundry and mail service at the Day Center, as well as longer-term stabilization through connections to services, treatment, and critical peer support.
The murals were installed in the fall of 2022, in time for the opening of the center in December 2022. RACC also purchased smaller portable works that are being installed throughout the center.
“Each of these pieces is contributing to this being a welcoming, safe place for people who have not often felt welcome, nor safe, in most other places,’’ said Christa Jones, Community Mental Health Program Associate Director at Multnomah County. “That each also reflects the artist’s lived experience makes them not only more insightful, and moving, but ultimately more hopeful for everyone. The County really appreciates how this work came to us.”
The video is a collaboration between RACC and Open Signal. The artists were interviewed in the Open Signal studio. RACC released a teaser for Oregon’s first Arts & Culture Caucus launch on February 27th.
The Regional Arts & Culture Council is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization that provides grants for artists and nonprofit organizations in Clackamas, Multnomah and Washington Counties; manages an internationally acclaimed public art program; convenes forums, networking events and other community gatherings; and provides workshops and other forms of technical assistance. RACC advocates for equity, inclusion and access, working to build a community in which everyone can participate in culture, creativity and the arts. For more information visit racc.org.
Regional Arts and Culture Council
Chanda Evans, Communications Team at RACC, firstname.lastname@example.org
Salvador Mayoral, IV, Sr. Project Manager, email@example.com
Julie Sullivan-Springhetti, Multnomah County Communications Director