All Together Now: Part III

My mother teaches at a similar facility to the Donald E. Long Juvenile Detention Center. Her stories made me apprehensive about this design-build initiative. But after listening to PNCA professor Barry Sanders passionately describe his experience teaching incarcerated kids and his rationale for investing in their education, I found myself committed to grasping what this project reached for.

Visiting artist Jack Sanders discusses the development of the diorama concept with students

K2Visiting artists Jack Sanders and Butch Anthony strategize for the build phase

Following our emotional presentation at the Long Center, we returned to the studio to discuss what, in our schemes, seemed to have struck a chord. We chose to move forward with elements that Kevin and Craig seemed to respond to for pragmatic reasons, that the Long Center kids we met with valued for their inspirational qualities, and that we were compelled to make in an effort to humanize the space.  We would give new life to the existing bookshelves, create seating to soften the harsh environment, apply a paint scheme to convert a menacing wall of cell doors into a visual delight, mount text graphics to unify the oddly-shaped and large space, and install dioramas to suggest escape into the imagination.

Turning our attention to the fabrication phase of the project, we confronted our materials budget: approximately $1,000. This seemed insufficient, to say the least, when compared with our vision for the literacy center.

The seating we designed for a reading circle would be made with cushions that were recycled from the bedding found in the cells, and covered with scrap leather (intended to connote a sense of luxury rarely afforded the residents). A 13-foot oak slab became a bench to entice residents to spend more time in an outdoor court; it was donated by program mentor Matt Bietz, and further expressed the notion that the residents deserved something special. We re-used all the existing bookcases. The vinyl used for the wall text was donated and laser-cut for free through one student’s connections. We collected and sourced yarn, paper, fabric, and adhesives from our own studio supplies and local resale shops to make the dioramas. And an anonymous donor provided a contribution to cover the cost of much of the paint, supplies, and materials. We were on our way to delivering the promise of our ideas.

K3MFA students JJ Goodrich and Kyla Mucci work on the cushions for the reading circle seating

K4MFA student Jenn Gavlin assessing the painting of the new shelves for the bookcases

K5MFA student Meghan Morris painting the interior of one of the dioramas

K6MFA student Eric Trine preparing the oak slab for final sanding

K7MFA student Meghan Morris applying test colors on the cell door wall

K8Final colors selected and taping complete, the first stages of painting

One challenge of working with what you have (in terms of materials) was in developing a unified design aesthetic. We attempted this in several ways. The organic pattern of the scrap leather covering the reading circle seating mimicked the birch grain of the bases, and corresponded with stripes of paint scheme. In an effort to connect the rather dreary bookcases to the exuberant paint scheme, we inserted additional shelves painted with accent colors of the paint scheme. The live edge of the oak slab bench echoed the organic quality of the scrap leather pattern. (At the mill, at each pass through the planer, we were gratified to see the wood grain of the slab express continued refinement, not unlike that of our design-build process.)

The Orhan Pamuk quote, “I read a book one day and my whole life was changed,” was one of several texts selected in response to our exchange with the Long Center residents, it also began to symbolize the design-build experience for me. Through it, I was becoming convinced that simple opportunities that make a difference are everywhere, and are worth taking.

Series Posts:

All Together Now: Part I

All Together Now: Part II

All Together Now: Part IV

All Together Now: Part V

All Together Now: Part VI

Kyla Mucci (along with Meghan Morris and Coren Rau) is a 1st year student in the MFA in Applied Craft and Design, offered jointly by Oregon College of Art and Craft and Pacific Northwest College of Art.

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