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Unity Through Creativity Blog

Healing Art Project Created One Year After The Tragic Parkland Shooting - Turning Pain into Beauty

Updated: Dec 2, 2023

by Laurie Marshall

Parkland Art Project

Westglades Middle School in Parkland, Florida coped with the first anniversary of the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School on February 14, 2019. There is nothing more humbling than facing the grief and helplessness that arises from the act of murder of innocent people. The shooter had gone to the middle school for three years. The staff had worried about him, but he slipped through the cracks.

Many of the students who died had gone to the middle school as well. One high school student had visited, Deborah Golding, her middle school art teacher, the week before the shooting. She came to tell Ms. Golding what a great teacher she was. And then her young life was over. Ms. Golding could not contain her tears as she told me the story.

Students collaborate in the painting of the rainbow that symbolizes the celebration of diversity and different sexualities.

Building Peace Through Art

I facilitated the 75th Singing Tree mural through the help of De Palazzo, Safe Schools Director at Equality Florida and a private benefactor. The Singing Tree™ Project is an international collaborative mural project the incorporates Peace Building Through Art, inspired by Nature. Each mural envisions healing of heartbreak and creates a shared vision of success.

A Collaborative Image Dedicated to Love

At Westglades Middle School, 350 art and drama students creatively processed their community’s nightmare together by making a collaborative image dedicated to love. The principal, Matthew Bianchi, was under pressure to have the middle school locked down on the anniversary of the shooting. The Broward County School District is entangled in law suits for negligence, because they failed to prevent the massacre which left 17 people injured and 17 people dead.

Only one-third of the students attended school on the first year anniversary. The rest of the students were home with their families or participating in memorial ceremonies at the high school.

Students working on the Parkland Art Mural Project

The Lead Design Team and The Equality Club

Principal Bianchi, with support from art teacher Ms. Golding, chose to have the students work together outside on the Mangrove Singing Tree of Love – expressing themselves instead of being shut inside the classroom.

The Lead Design Team of the project was six students from the Equality Club – a gay-straight alliance which supports LGBTQ students. As facilitator, I incorporated the club members’ ideas for the mural, including the Mangrove Tree and its roots, a peace symbol, diamonds and stars in the sky, hanging flags that symbolize different sexualities, a rainbow earth where differences are celebrated, figures in the trees and nested hearts. The Equality Club ‘s vision served as inspiration for their school, which increased the status of this oft-bullied group.

As the students worked, they spoke tangentially of the massacre. They expressed their sadness on this tragic day and how glad they were to be outside, to be together, to be using their hands, to be immersed in color, to be making decisions, to be creative, to solve problems in a finite space, to invite their classmates to add their artwork, to connect, to touch the wall, to touch the paint.

Detail of the Parkland Art Mural Art Project showing the Mangrove Tree and its roots, a peace symbol, diamonds and stars in the sky, and the rainbow of different colors that symbolize different sexualities.

A Symbol of Strength and Diversity

Westglades principal, Matthew Bianchi, said of the project, “The mural is beautiful and a powerful symbol of strength and diversity. The painting of the mural was therapeutic to our students who are healing from the tragedy at Marjory Stoneman Douglas. It will be a constant reminder of the resolve our community has.”

You can see a short slide show of the process of making this tribute to love and resilience. The goal is to create soul strengthening imagery to deal with the heartbreak of gun violence and young death, transforming pain into beauty. The project strives to help prevent violence, to create a world where every child knows they belong, they have purpose, they have meaning, they are unique and they are loved.


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