An 8-year old in Hillsboro, Virginia asked me a question in 1999. I had facilitated a painting with 350 students in her school. Meredith Miller realized that just looking at the mural made people happy. Then she asked, ”What if the whole world made a painting together?”
Meredith’s profound question resonated with my deepest longing for humanity. Instead of fighting and squabbling and killing, what if we created, built and cooperated? I had no idea how to make a painting with the whole world, but I knew that children would be my partners.
Kate Seredy’s book, the Singing Tree, provided the vision I was looking for. In it, she relayed a story told to her by her Hungarian soldier father: “One night during World War I, we soldiers crawled on our bellies all night long to escape the enemy. We came across no living thing. Everything had been destroyed by war. When the dawn came, one tree was still alive. Birds from hundreds of miles away who don’t normally come together, were in the tree, singing a song that had never been heard before.”
All the things that divide us are not as important as the fact that there may be no life for billions of miles around us. We can chose to destroy each other and the earth, or we can create something beautiful together, like the birds in the Singing Tree.
I found the key for inviting the world to create together by looking to nature’s cooperative model. All the leaves of the tree work for the whole tree, and all the trees in a forest contribute to the well-being of the entire forest. If the whole world already does work together in nature, why can’t we?
The first Singing Tree mural was made by 1000 children from both public and private schools and homeschoolers in Rappahannock County, Virginia.
Like the growth of an acorn into a 40-foot tall oak, in the time since Meredith asked her question, 49 “Singing Tree Murals” have been created by over 18,000 people from 50 countries.
Each project envisioned success around a local solution for a community challenge. Led by neighborhood youth or intergenerational design teams, some of the issues addressed include homelessness, freedom from addiction, autism, religious conflict, biodiversity, poverty, environmental degradation, water and child abuse.
The youngest design leaders have been 5th graders at Helen Faison Elementary School in Pittsburgh, PA, where one of the key sponsors of the Singing Tree Project, Unity Through Creativity, is located.
Homeless and formerly homeless youth in Marin County, California created this Seasons of Hope Singing Tree, with support from another sponsor, the Create Peace Project, an international Peace-Building-Through-Art non-profit in San Francisco.
The murals illustrate The Winter of Wellness, The Spring of Sustainability, the Summer of Serenity and the Autumn of Abundance.
Healing old wounds in Sarajevo, young people of Croatian, Serbian and Muslim backgrounds co-created the Sarajevo Singing Tree of Renewed Togetherness.
The young people, sponsored by Art Grupa, chose to portray the earth without continents, but with musical notes instead, which transcends boundaries.
Beyond art and community, this project builds leadership skills in youth by helping them gain mastery, autonomy, purpose and connection. The murals demonstrate the beauty of democracy where every voice matters as we create together. For more information, email Laurie Marshall or call 415-612-0401.
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