Program organizers hope to prevent gangs through art

By Liliana Castillo: CNJ staff writer

A local non-profit group has plans to help prevent gangs in Clovis and Portales through art.

Artists of America of New Mexico is working to launch a new afterschool and weekend program called Windows on the World, which will target middle school and high school age youth who are at risk for joining a gang. The program will recruit students who are on probation for tagging. The purpose is to teach them how to adapt their artistic skill into a more acceptable form such as painting windows for the holidays and painting murals.

Mary Kathryn Barris, manager of AOA of New Mexico, said the idea for the program stemmed from data regarding an increased number of disenchanted and discouraged youth in the Clovis and Portales area. She said these teens are often attracted by gangs because they feel like they belong to something.

Barris moved to Los Angeles after graduating from Eastern New Mexico University. She said communites in L.A. would paint murals on blank walls that were often tagged over and over. She said it spread and soon east L.A. was known as the city of murals. Soon, the youth that were tagging became involved in the process and began to paint murals instead of tagging.

Barris said she hopes to recreate that process, including taking the youth to talk to business owners so they can see how to behave during the process.

“When they start picking up their own paint to start painting the town, they’ll know there is a process and know what it is,” Barris said.

She said the program will help the youth as well as beautify the towns.

Barris said AOA will work with various organizations in both Clovis and Portales such as the school systems, police departments, teen courts and probation officers to identify students for the program.

Currently, AOA is looking for funding to launch the program. Barris said she hopes the program is up and running this summer. Besides looking for grants, Barris said Windows on the World, which will be housed at Matt 25 Hope Center, needs funding for operational costs, transportation and food for the youth.

Painting instructors will work with the students to teach them how to paint a mural or window. Artist Apollo Kluchin from Los Angeles is planning to work with Windows on the World.

Kluchin has been painting murals since the 1970s, he said.

“Our goal is to take kids that have been misdirected and have gone down a bit of a destructive path and welcoming them with open arms and turning them on to their own creative posibilities,” Kluchin said.

Kluchin said opening students eyes to possibilities will provide them a positive way to express themselves.

“It’s all about passing on the creative light to the next generation,” Kluchin said.

Tish Stewart of Clovis is helping Barris spread the word about the program. Stewart is a coach at Clovis Christian School and teaches art.

“The program provides an opportunity to show off their talent and give them the attention that’s good for them,” Stewart said. “Kids gravitate toward that positive affirmation.”

Stewart said gang issues have become more prominant in the community.

“We need to address it before it becomes a problem,” she said.