The lead artists were assistant professor of painting, Amber Hansen, who specializes in community-based public art projects, alumna and USD staff member Reyna Hernandez ‘15, and alumni and graduate students Yazmin Moktan ‘22 and Sonia Perea-Morales ‘22.

Selected high school student leaders included Maggie Breyfogle (Bishop Heelan), Treyzel Michael Chandler (West High), Jeysi Estrada (West High), Elizabeth Jordan (North High), Olivia Greaves (Bishop Heelan) and Olivia Paskey (Bishop Heelan).  
The USD artists worked with the high schools students to come up with the idea, draft and paint the murals for the two 40-foot walls of the Gilchrist Learning Center.

“I think it's empowering for the high school students to be able to imagine something and share in a very public way with their community,” Hansen said. “It's showing them a way of collaboration, and a way of bringing their ideas together, but it's also offering them a chance to be able to share their ideas in a very public way that will impact the people who live in Sioux City because they will see each day.”

Conceptual work began in early 2022 with the students thinking about issues important to them and their peers. The processes used to help develop ideas ranged from visiting the Sioux City Public Museum to writing poetry, drawing and sharing experiences of living in Sioux City. 

“The conversations we had with the students at the meeting discussed mental health and feeling external pressures in terms of going to college, how you're supposed to be, act and appear as if you're something you’re not,” Hernandez said. “We also talked about how the pandemic impacted that as well, and how wearing masks created a way of hiding yourself."
Once initial preparations were completed, the lead artists and student leaders worked toward developing overarching themes. The themes that surfaced centered around mental health and identity formation. Conversations during this part of the process included perceptions of self and critiques of socio-cultural influences such as social media, beauty, wellness standards and structural inequalities.

“The center of the mural contains imagery that relates to the local environment, either images of childhood or landmarks or events within Sioux City and then reaches out into the different depths of the unknown,” Hansen said. “The left side depicts the depth of underwater scenes related to the feeling of being underwater or feeling like you're under pressure. The right side depicts images of deep space. The kids talked a lot about the uncertainty of where their lives will go and having to pick and choose the direction for their path and journey.”
The mural was presented by the students to their families and friends at a private reception on July 2. The mural is set to remain on display for two years.

Funding for this project came from the Art Center Association General Endowment donated by the Joseph G. Stroup Estate, the Gilchrist Foundation and the Iowa Arts Council.