The Parkland Mural and the PLU Bubble: Crossing the Bridge
Parkland Atlas Essay
Parkland, Washington is a city with an incredible history that has always been devoted to the diverse population it inhabits. Pacific Lutheran University is a private four year college that goes by the motto, “PLU seeks to educate students for lives of thoughtful inquiry, service, leadership and care—for other people, for their communities and for the Earth.” PLU lies inside of Parkland. They share a place in the world, but over time they have created different spaces for themselves. The fact that they share many of the same surroundings mean that they cannot be completely isolated from each other. I will be talking about the differences and similarities that are seen between PLU and Parkland and why they make the relationship between the two difficult to understand.
“Place and Space,” is a concept that was used by Michel de Certeau where in essence, place relates to a physical area that has been created for a purpose. He explains his concept in his essay Walking in the City where he describes the layout of the urban city and how it should be drawn out in accordance to space. John Fiske, a writer who also displayed “place in space” in an essay used the concept to talk about his cultural studies, and described the two as so, “Space is practiced place, and space is produced by the creativity of the people using the resources of the other” (Fiske, J. Cultural Studies and the Culture of Everyday Life). Fiske’s explanation of the “place and space” concept held more understanding for how the two correspond with each other. I saw the difference between “Place and space” at PLU because for many of the students and faculty, Parkland is simply a place, but others see it as their space in the world. There are many students at PLU who grew up in Parkland, choose to live off of campus in the community, or in their childhood homes. Approximately 52% of undergraduate students at PLU live off campus or commute from their homes (Diversity@PLU, “Home”). This statistic shows that there are many students who prefer to live off campus and closer to the community of Parkland. They could still be involved in the PLU campus community, but they are more likely to be a part of the world outside of PLU, which many students find themselves in at some point while they are at this university. PLU students tend to be extremely cautious when entering to city space of Parkland because it is primarily known for negative stereotypes that include poverty, crime, violence, sexual assault, etc. Most things that are stereotypically thought of lower income cities, but despite PLU being a private university that has tuition fees of about $40,000 per year, PLU and Parkland share many things, including what Parkland is most famous for. Garfield Street is where most tourists want to visit when they visit Parkland. It is across the street from the front of the PLU campus and leads a straight shot towards the Mattress Ranch, Baskin Robins, and Walgreens. While walking down Garfield Street, one will find Parkland’s famous tattoo shop, restaurants, coffee shops, and convenient stores that are popular among PLU students and Parkland community members. Yet, with all the things that PLU and Parkland share, there are still a few obstacles that keep the two apart. One of the smaller details being zip codes. PLU has a designated zip code that is different than the neighborhood houses that are across the street from campus. The 52% of undergraduate students that live off campus have a separate zip code than the college they attend. This could be seen as a small inconvenience for many, but since zip codes designate cities, borderlines, mail services, and more, it has incorporated to a greater obstacle for students and the community to overcome, which is something known as the ‘PLU bubble.’ It is the circumference of campus that most PLU students stay close to. To exit the PLU bubble is to enter Parkland, which is primarily equivalent to exiting your personal comfort zone that makes you feel ‘safe.’
PLU and Parkland share the same place which means that at times, the community members help the university, and the students help the community. This does not happen as much as one would assume. I know that I was shocked when realized how distant I had even made myself to the outside world of PLU when I began my education on campus. PLU’s isolation to the world that surrounds it creates a big problem for Parkland’s image. If we ever want Parkland’s stereotypes of being dangerous to fade away, then the student body of PLU needs to stop creating a distant environment from their own city and learn how to step out of the ‘PLU bubble’ to make a real difference and stay true to the motto that PLU students are educated by. In 2014, this image started to flourish when a PLU student created a project where Parkland and PLU members came together to create a mural that represents Parkland’s incredible history. This piece of work is called “The Parkland Mural,” and it is located on the infamous Garfield Street. The Mural is facing toward the PLU campus, like it was meant to represent what the university has added to the history of Parkland by reflecting its image off the walls of PLU’s buildings. One of the PLU faculty members, JP Avila, who was involved in the 2014 mural project stated that the mural’s location is “really sight specific” in accordance to its message (Parkland Community Mural Project, video).
“The community mural has been a tool for Pacific Lutheran University and Parkland to build a better understanding of one another and create a space for our community’s narrative,” (Wakefield, P. Parkland Community Mural Project, video). This community art project was organized by PLU students Saiyane Refaei and Carly Brook. They intended for the mural to represent a “visual landscape of our city,” and “show a variety of different moments and time of Parkland,” which is exactly what it has done (Parkland Community Mural Project, video). The Mural spells out Parkland with each letter representing what Parkland could potentially mean for its members (Parkland Mural Project – A Street-Art Narration of Parkland Identities). Each letter has paintings on it that correlate with the meaning of that specific time in Parkland, and these definitions are described on the Parkland Mural webpage created by wordpress.com. In short, the letters in order stand for people, agriculture, recreation, kids, landscape, academics, native peoples, and diversity. The mural took the entire summer of 2014 to complete, and would not have been possible without all of the community and university support. PLU student Saiyane Refaei, was the lead artist and organizer for the project. She was inspired from her trip to Oaxaca, Mexico where she was overwhelmed with the amount of community art that was shared with the city. She was inspired by “the way that they saw art as a community” and “something that can be shared among everyone,” (Parkland Community Mural Project, video). When the project began, she exclaimed that so many people were excited about the idea, and that they couldn’t wait to bring it to life. She also realized that there are “so many people in Parkland that want to see projects like this happen,” (Parkland Community Mural Project, video). I feel like with that statement, more public street art projects should come into play in the future to further the developing relationship between PLU and the community.
Community art spaces, like the Parkland Mural, can enhance social interactions and engagement for a community which help it strive healthfully and brings people together (Grodach, C. Art spaces, public space, and the link to community development). Oaxaca, Mexico, located in southern Mexico, is a city that is known for exceeding in this area of community development according to Speak Art Loud blog writers and Parkland Mural artist Saiyane Refaei (“Oaxaca & a Few Thoughts on Community Art”). Art is a way to voice certain opinions about community, and street art in a community creates a healthier connection between a place’s history, culture, and its people. Oaxaca, Mexico is famous for its community street art because of its brilliant connection to the history and culture of the city. Oaxaca had always been a city of vibrant art, but when rebellion began to hit the streets of the city, “The walls of Oaxaca began to speak.” Around 2009 The city was dealing with social and political issues, disappearing children, drug wars, and migrants, and the walls began to reflect what the city had been going through because of multiple street artists that took the time to show people what was happening to the community (Jones, S, “Mexico’s Street Art Tells Stories of Grief, Anger, and Resistance”). For this city to be able to reflect its painful history onto its own walls creates a beautiful connection to the members of the community and the people who visit it for its delectable food and historic artwork. PLU student Saiyane Refaei was inspired by this cities courage and community involvement that she brought the Parkland Mural to life, and her dedication to this project has created a long lasting project that will inspire many for the years to come.
To begin a project that gets people excited to participate in is, in my perspective, is another way to create a successful community where members come together to make something beautiful to represent what they all love. I think that the Parkland Mural was an excellent way to gap the bridge between Parkland and PLU members, but I don’t think that it should stop there. A report done from the 2013-14 academic year submitted that 7 out of 10 students volunteer while they attend the university, and that 31% of students take community engaged learning courses (Center for Community Engagement Services, “Home”). I participated in one of those community engaged learning courses my first semester at PLU, and I was required to submit a minimal amount of hours devoted to community volunteer services. I spent a lot of my time volunteering with the Habitat for Humanity foundation, a program that’s “vision is to build and foster a community where everyone has a decent, affordable place to live and where poverty housing is unacceptable,” (“Our Vision”). “Habitat for humanity has over 1,400 affiliates in the United States and about 70 national organizations around the world,” (“Habitat for Humanity Affiliates”). I spent a total of 12 hours working in two different neighborhoods on house projects that needed to be completed so that the designated family could move in as soon as possible. I worked with other PLU students, PLU faculty, project organizers, members of the community, and members of the habitat for humanity neighborhoods. I think that habitat for humanity is a fantastic way for PLU students to become involved with the community and have a chance to see what it’s like to go outside and get your shoes dirty to help those who you share your neighborhood with. Roughly 240 students from PLU volunteered for habitat for humanity in the 2013-14 academic year (Center for Community Engagement Services, “Home”). That is only 240 out of 3,300 students who participated in this wonderful program. Another way that many PLU students have embedded themselves into the community is through volunteer work with the local school districts. In the same 2013-14 academic report, roughly 225 PLU students worked as mentors and tutors in the local school districts and helped 537 elementary and middle school aged kids have a more successful school year. Many of my friends decided to work with the schools that surround campus, and they all reported having an unforgettable experience, which has led to some of them becoming full time volunteers, or even leading them to a job that they thoroughly enjoy at the elementary and middle schools.
Programs like the Parkland Mural, Habitat for Humanity, and mentor/tutor opportunities for young kids leave long lasting effects on a community. Some of these effects are visual, and others are personal. Communities should not be separated the way PLU and Parkland sometimes separate themselves. The truth is that PLU is Parkland, and Parkland is somewhat PLU. There is no escaping the city of Parkland while attending PLU. It’s small in circumference, and doesn’t have many options for food or regular personal needs. Students at PLU are almost forced into the Parkland community to get the things that they need to survive, but it should not have to feel that way. Projects that close the gap between PLU and Parkland make everyone feel more safe and comfortable. It makes us feel like we belong to a bigger picture than just our school. Getting out into the community is what our motto tells us, so why don’t we do it? It is a curious thing, the need to protect ourselves from the unknown. “As you move outside of your comfort zone, what was once the unknown and frightening becomes your new normal.” – Robin S. Sharma