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“Painting Our Cities Well” by Yunzhe Hong

In February of 2023, we released our third Open Call: How might we reflect and reimagine wellness in public health as art, letters, stories and poetry? The following is an art submission we received from this open call.

“The submission imagines a new dream for a society that puts a focus on art. Murals have always been a reflection of an urban community or a disenfranchised community. My vision is to take murals to another level so that they serve as useful tools and aid recovery from mental health problems. As more people see these images on a regular basis, they will understand that mental health is not a concern that needs to be shamed or avoided, but something that we can tackle, head-on, embrace with all the resources that we have at hand, and make a communal effort to solve, one day at a time. It is my hope, that Murals can one day address concerns that people feel too shamed and bringing up themselves. I also feel that it will aid communities who feel marginalized and disenfranchised by the outcasts of mainstream culture. Hopefully, my letter serves to have us act now and do something about such a pressing issue.”

Yunzhe Hong

Painting Our Cities Well

Dear LIGHT team, Reimagine: a word that holds a special place in my heart, as it breaks the walls of expectations built so many years ago by the patriarchy and establishes a way for people of all backgrounds to create new norms in society. It allows those who wish not to be confined to a box to view the world in a beautiful spectrum of possibilities, beliefs, and values. Of all the pressing issues facing our ever-evolving and awakening society, mental health may be at the forefront, and it is our duty as the next generation to reimagine how to explore mental health and more specifically use art and creativity to create practical, real-world solutions to the crises that plague our culture, and specifically the marginalized groups in society who don’t have adequate representation. An increase in public art and murals can perhaps have the greatest impact on our youth’s mental health by promoting safety and discussion Many of those afflicted by mental health issues simply feel that there is no one to talk to comfortably about their pressing concerns. They feel detached and marginalized because of who they are and what they are experiencing. However, by organizing artists to paint murals where the nation’s youth, particularly youth of color and LGBTQIA+ communities, can see images of people welcoming them to discuss their issues, these kids can feel safer reaching out to resources in their local community who may be able to help them. Also, the murals themselves don’t have to promote mental health directly to help with the mental health crisis in America. These murals can simply depict the lives of those in marginalized communities, and in promoting diversity, multiculturalism, and equity between, races, sexes, and genders, make those within these communities feel more “a part of” rather than “apart from.” This itself may contribute to breaking down walls and promoting the type of inclusion that leads to more acceptance and better psychological outlooks for everyone trying to find their place on this melting pot of a planet. In the end, as former president Barack Obama remarked, “We are the change we have been waiting for.” Murals made for and by actual community members won’t just depict the emotional struggles our youth are suffering from: they can also shed light on the hope our community carries like a torch whose multicolored flames of individuality and unity can serve as a beacon of change, allowing a new generation to feel communal warmth and a sense of true belonging. With just a simple look through a car window or out of a drug store doorway, young people can experience a true sense of community, ultimate unity, and more importantly, imagination and reimagination that gives hope audaciously to all. It may demonstrate that perhaps all the pressing issues that face humanity, and especially mental health, come with a simple solution: art and the power of unique self-expression.

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