Art Has Positive Impact on Teens

By Andrew Glazier

Andrew Duncan Johnstone has a name as Scottish as it gets. He is an amazing storyteller and an artist to boot. He plays the bagpipes. Yes, he eats haggis too. Ashe says of himself, “He is lucky enough to get paid to paint on the walls.”He and his business partner, Ileana Evans are working with at-risk teens in Livermore to paint a series of three murals or a “triptych.” Some of these teens have been caught spraying graffiti or have just gotten in trouble and need a better direction to channel their energy. The murals they have been painting will hang in the Livermore multi-use center. The center, as Andrew describes Has Positive Impact on Teens, “needs vigor and life.” This project was the brainchild of Horizon family counseling led by Lynne Siwula. Horizon is a department of the Livermore police department. Andrew says,” I’ve never met a bad child, just a child with a few bad breaks.”The program begins in“Clarion Alley,” a famous alley in San Francisco’s’ Mission District. Accompanying the youth are Livermore police, who typically despise graffiti, are wide-eyed at the vibrant hues and extraordinary images that cover the alley. It seems more than the kids have their eyes opened today. After the alley, they visit M.O.M.A. or the Museum of Modern Art. Only one in the youth group had stepped foot in a museum before. The general impression was that they weren't striking as the pieces in Clarion Alley. The fine line between graffiti and art in context. On a wall, graffiti is a pain for all. On canvas, it is bought, sold and

revered. Most important of all, the artist can make a living from his/her art rather than do it for free and risk prosecution.

After the museum, they traveled to PIXAR Animation Studios. They were, as Andrew describes, “fabulous hosts.” They meet with a character writer, who typically, artists find intimidating. One young woman casually pulls out her sketchbook and begins to show it to him. Andrew describes her as courageous. When the group returns to Livermore, they don’t paint, not yet. First Andrew and Ileana show them how to build frames and then stretch canvas. After help with the first, they build the second and third perfectly. “You could bounce a quarter off of them.” The police are amazed to see youth from rival neighborhoods helping each other to mix paints. This project took six months to find funding. At first, as Andrew tells it, the police were unconvinced. They leaned back in their chairs with their arms crossed. By the end of the meetings, they leaned forward and were amazed at how this creative solution could redirect youth whose current prospects were slim. Ileana was central to the fundraising for the project and is trying to establish it as a nonprofit. The art supplies were donated by Don Edwards of Berkeley and Dick Blick of Concord through the efforts of the sales representative, Randy Stratton. The children’s talent is clear. By working on the panels, they create art. Art is therapeutic. Ileana tells it, even her sixty-five-year-old mother-in-law is taking drawing classes. The youth, as their parents have noticed, sketching after school rather than going out and getting in trouble. One father was so touched by his child’s sudden improvement that he was moved to tears. He claims when he first saw Andrew, “He saw wings.”Andrew tells the youth how he used to work at KensingtonPalace in England. A similar job involved the 1,000-year oldYorkminister Cathedral. He once worked while Princess Diana looked on. As the youth finish the three pieces they describe their work. The first canvas is a dark, brooding sky with an angry sun and desolate forest. One of the branches of the trees reaches into the next piece. There, against a gray background, a single leaf sprout as an Aztec warrior looks on. A second peaceful face looks at the viewer. Another branch continues to the third canvas, which shows re-growth and bright sun. One of the most impressive things is that when finished, the young people clean up without being asked. That surprises even Andrew and Ileana.