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Frances McDonald, executive director of Mark Making, fills in the background of a mural painted by teens from the Scholze Center.


What: "Painted Gardens" unveiling.

When: 5 p.m. Sunday.

Where: Hart Gallery, 110 E. Main St.

Admission: Free.

Phone: 423-266-3041.

Editor's note: In keeping with Times Free Press policy, the last names of the teens receiving treatment at the Scholze Center for Adolescent Treatment are not included.

The light and glow that emanates from the faces of the three teen artists is almost as bright as the colors in the shapes and figures on the 300-square-foot mural they helped create.

Each beams with a sense of pride and accomplishment as they gaze upon the nearly completed mural with its giant floral designs. Called "Painted Gardens," it hangs in the Mark Making studio space in North Chattanooga.

The piece, which goes up Sunday on an exterior wall at the Hart Gallery building, represents so much more than a piece of art to these young people. All participated in the mural project as part of their substance abuse treatment at the Scholze Center for Adolescent Treatment. Artist Frances McDonald, executive director of Mark Making, led the project with help and instruction from the staff at the community-building public art initiative.

All told, 15 young people worked on the mural; some doing the initial design, others doing the layout and another crew doing the painting. The project did as much to transform the lives of Cole, 17, MiKayla, 15, and Collin, 16, as it did to transform the blank 10.5-by-28-foot canvas into a work of art.

"I had bad trust issues," admits MiKayla, who had no prior art experience. "Frances said that, when the paint comes out of the tip of the brush, you have to trust it. She was right. I started to trust it and, when it was over, I felt like I could do it. I never thought I could be good at it."

For Cole, making art and the idea of being an artist have given him a new outlook on how he can spend his time.

"I thought I knew how to make art," he says. "Once they started showing us the right way, I realized I didn't know what it was. Now, it makes me want to get out and do other little things. I realize now that life isn't bad sober.

"I also learned to focus."

McDonald says Cole's transformation might have been the most dramatic.

"He was bouncing off the walls when he first got here," she says. "When he started painting, he would look at the piece and tell himself, 'Focus.' It was remarkable."

The piece is dedicated to the late Dennis Palmer, co-founder of the Shaking Ray Levi Society, a local arts presentation and advocacy organization. Palmer died about a year ago.

"We always have a muse for each project and this one was dedicated to Dennis," McDonald says. "He did a lot of work with Mark Making and with me personally, so this one is near and dear to my heart."

The young artists listened to some of Palmer's music and used his own paintings as inspiration.

"Painted Gardens" is actually the sixth mural to go up on the Hart Gallery wall, but the first done by youth in the Scholze Center. Each mural has been dedicated to the people in need in our community, according to Hart Gallery Executive Director Ellen Heavilon.

The first mural was in 2010 after the wall was painted - uninvited - with graffiti.

"Somebody tagged it and I said, 'I'm gonna find those kids and give them some spray paint,'" she said.

That didn't work out, so instead, nationally known hip-hop graffiti artist Bukue One was brought in to create a piece around the word "Breathe." Various groups, all with a community outreach component such as advocates for area homeless and Battle Academy have been invited for the others.

"If I had a dollar for every time someone took a picture of them, I could fund the gallery forever," Heavilon says.

Jeremy Humphrey, director of youth services at the Council for Alcohol and Drug Abuse Services and the Scholze Center, says the art project is part of the center's 28-day recovery program. There are other activities such as climbing walls for which the teens - who come from all over the region - can volunteer, he says.

"The activities have lots of benefits that help with character-skills building and recovery," he says. "It helps them see the bigger picture, to see the community aspect and the team aspect."

Collin is especially proud of being a part of a project that others will enjoy.

"I like art and I like drawing, but I really like that I was part of some that will add beauty to the community," he says.

"I like that I was part of something cool," Cole adds. "We helped the community, and it shows that you can change your hobbies."

All three young artists say the experience has shown them that art can be an outlet for many things, including as a form of expression and improved critical thinking. McDonald says being able to create gives people a sense of self-worth, pride and empowerment.

"They have created this masterpiece and now they see that something like this is possible."

Contact Barry Courter at or 423-757-6354.