TEL HI’s New Mural Reinvigorates Community Art

February 3, 2023

Through a partnership with San Francisco Art Institute’s (SFAI) City Studio and Telegraph Hill Community Center (TEL HI), lead and teen artists painted a mural by and for the community. From the end of April until early August, participants engaged with varying artistic processes of brainstorming, drawing, collaborating and painting the mural. 

The inception of the project began with Amy Berk of SFAI City Studio and artists across the city, including Chris Williams, Oscar Lopez and Jamon Tyus, the latter of whom works for TEL HI. Before the new mural was developed over the course of eight weeks, an older mural existed on the 62’x 8’ wall. Chris said in an interview that the idea of producing a new mural was to “try to enhance the mural that they already [had] here at TEL HI” and to “bring more life to this particular section.”  

Chris Williams (left) and Jamon Tyus (right) mapping out the blank mural at the start of the project. (Photo credit: Amy Berk) 


It was often said during the beginning weeks that the mural would take time, transitioning from messy configurations into cohesive and well established illustrations. This remark proved truthful, as the wall we began with beamed not only for its paleness, but the opportunity that it held. In this glaring sensation, my eyes lingered. The snowy slate was trekked by lines of charcoal and pencil led which corresponded to the finalized design structure. Here, this white wall hashed with gray was to flourish with a tangible vision of community. Here, layers of meaning would encompass layers of paint.  


Now, the wall is no longer blank by the name of white, but spirited with assorted shades that embellish the color spectrum. Poppies framed by swirling blue paint scatter the base of the mural on the left, and on the right, sea creatures swim in a continuum of oceanic elements. At the center lies a shimmering ring, where lines intersect in the middle to form puzzle pieces amidst city landmarks. Entangled in these golden curves, the Golden Gate Bridge’s spires protrude parallel to the rumbling fog–– an element that altogether bridges the ecosystems of the sea, land and sky. 

The center of the mural at the end of the sixth week. (Photo credit: Elizabeth Wilson) 


Nine high school and recently graduated students from across the city were involved in the project, including myself. After meeting Friday, April 23 for a preliminary information session at TEL HI, we then planned the mural design through virtual questionnaires. In a survey, we shared where we were from, our reasons for joining the project, and what details we wanted to see. On a Padlet, we added images or writing that reflected these ideas. Not only were the teens asked what they wanted to contribute, but so were community members at TEL HI, including the younger children. From all this feedback about the mural’s composition, the lead artists assembled the final design. The project officially launched Wednesday, June 16. 


Throughout everything, music blanketed our work rhythm: children galivanting in the playground adjacent to us, melodic mixtures of jazz, pop, and other oldies bounced from a speaker. Laughter moved with us too, rolling in and out of jokes from something another one said. Simple smiles for being there, more smiles looking back. 

Various youth involved in TEL HI’s summer programs assisted with the mural for approximately four weeks. In the first week we started at the base twofold, namely by drawing the bottom of the wall, and also by connecting with the youth about the project. We gathered inside the gymnasium which housed the mural wall, and practiced drawing together. The kids from three different groups were generally shy to approach conversation, yet boldly entered the space where art was our world. 


Bent over brown paper, the youth took their liberties drawing poppies based upon the reference images and teen artists assisting them. We then transferred to the wall, where the kids were guided how to paint methodically and clean up any messes along the way. Soft fiery tones and cobalt blue paint seeped the brushes of over ten kids, all of whom were alongside their lead or teen artist partner.  


The kids embodied youthful creativity, through their own means of wanting to include winged insects, and reportedly, unicorns. They were forces of life, energized by curiosity and emboldened by convictions of what they wanted their marks to be. One youth I worked with painted almost ten poppies in the minimal time we had. Another referred to me as a teacher, happily following the lead I set for what to paint. Overall, watching their facial expressions and states of being at times left me inspired for the existence of creative captivation. Creativity had entered the worlds of all the kids here. 


Beyond the kids’ participation and feedback, others participated either directly or indirectly. On Saturday, July 17, TEL HI had a community mural painting day and invited people to join for an afternoon of painting the mural.  


Weekly, faces old and new would stroll through the cyan gate and stop to admire the work. They waited silently, inquiring upon entry or taking a glance to the wall while they passed through. When the groups of children arrived for their respective summer program, they bolstered with excitement at how the mural had changed from the week prior. Similarly, the neighboring playground hosted onlooking eyes and pointing fingers from kids enticed by all the moving parts. While the children behind us played, some would stop and stand by the framework barrier to wave at us. 


Everyone echoed the aura of excitement which they felt for the project: teen muralists expressed how this was a positive new experience for them, lead artists noted the significance that the project had for the community, and one program instructor commented how encouraging it was to see their kids interact with art in such a way. 


To me, collaborative and collective processes serve as an undercurrent to every creative flow. Whether in reference to an assortment of artistic methods or specifically this mural project, creativity erupts when purpose intertwines with action. Through this mural, highlighting the communities of San Francisco drove our approach to the project. Now, as the project comes to a close, we merge into the concluding moment where others have the opportunity to intake the finished mural. There are no more brown rolls of paper to be discarded here. There are no brushes to be washed. At the same time, there is no “end moment” to this mural. There is no “end moment” to art. Community dialogue and experiences will always exist, through which varying creative representations can display and account for. 


During the last week, I stood at the center of the mural, my head tilted gently to face the right side. The butterfly wings were lucid with gilded spray paint, reflecting the sunlight overhead. This is not the end, for the design will continue illuminating community values. The wall lives with the people that designed it, and the people it was designed for. This is community art. 


To see the finished mural and join the artists in celebration, enter through the Chestnut Street entrance of the evening of Friday, September 24

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