Empowering Youth Through
“We stopped fighting and bickering. All 1300 people in our middle school worked together. We worked together the way the leaves on a tree work together. It was magical. ” Casey, 8th grade
Each Singing Tree mural is a the result of a child’s vision. In 1999, 8 year-old Meredith Miller asked – “What if the whole world made a painting TOGETHER?” Unity Through Creativity Founder Laurie Marshall has developed a collaborative process where from 100 to 1000 people add their vision to a cohesive whole, addressing community challenges to spark innovation actions. The Singing Trees are a visual model of democracy and a vehicle for peace building. The project adheres to three principals of nature: It is replicable. It has a clear goal with local conditions determining the form. It is based on interdependence.
The Singing Tree Collaborative Mural Methodology
When people have a common creative experience, they trust each other more. They can solve other problems together more easily. We invite youth to lead a design effort to transform the challenges in their community into a powerful work of art. We use trees as the underlying structure because they are a model of mutualism. This Creative Leadership Training program creates a physical vision of success, drawing upon the genius and wisdom of the community to envision innovations. The youth are trained in communication skills and conversational intelligence as they co-create. The Singing Tree Project is inclusive – everyone affected by an issue is invited to join.
“The Singing Tree Mural” is a youth-led community project that embraces hope, inclusion, spirit and community togetherness. Each leaf is a wish, hope, prayer, thought or meaningful artwork created by anyone in the community who wishes to add to the project, from children to retirees, business owners to the homeless. The end result is a public artwork that is beautiful, inviting and provokes a sense of belonging, kindness and care to the viewer whether they are a local contributor or a passer-through.” Valerie Caskey, Program Director at Coos History Museum, Oregon
HOW IT WORKS:
A lead team of youth and those who are partnering them chooses an issue to address, a native tree to honor and a driving question. The artistic leaders design the overall image, and each of the participants creates one or more mosaic pieces of the giant collage, for example a leaf or a star. These are combined into a mosaic and fitted onto the overall image by the lead group.
The Willow Singing Tree to Honor Native Americans (Each of 572 federally-registered tribes has a leaf)
Since 1999, 40 murals have been made with over 16,000 people from 50 countries. Singing Trees have focused on issues from multi-cultural conflicts and the despair of homelessness, to coping with grief and healing addictions. The murals have been displayed in high-profile public places such as UNICEF Headquarters in New York City, in at-risk communities throughout the United States, in an orphanage in India, and in government institutions such as the U.S. National Botanical Gardens in Washington, D.C. Singing Trees have been made by groups as small as 50 and as large as 1300.
“We are one of the leaves of a tree and the tree is all humanity. We cannot live without the other, without the tree.” Pablo Casals
Why a Singing Tree?
The central image of a tree on the earth in space was inspired by a true story in a book called “The Singing Tree” by Kate Seredy:
One night during World War I, soldiers crawled for hours on their bellies to escape the enemy. Everything had been destroyed by the shells, bullets, and violence of war. They didn’t come across any evidence of life ? not a house, person, rabbit, squirrel, bird, tree or bush. However, when dawn came, they saw that one tree was still alive. Birds from hundreds of miles away, who don’t normally come together, were in the tree, singing.
The earth is the Singing Tree of the Milky Way. All the things that divide people are not as important as the fact that there is no other life that we know of for billions of miles around. WE ARE ALONE TOGETHER IN SPACE! We can chose to destroy each other or to create something beautiful together, like the new song of the birds in the Singing Tree.
There’s a Singing Tree book with instructions and State Standards:
A book of stories, curriculum and instructions in how to share values through art and train people in the collaboration necessary for democracy. It shows how to grow your own Singing Tree and how you can join a Singing Tree that is already started. The book has standards-based curriculum tie-ins for the classroom in geography, civics, life sciences, math, art and English. Take the ideas and run!
“My students learned a different way of interpreting and thinking as they worked on the Singing Tree Project. I could tell by the look in their eyes they were excited.” – Mark Pelusi, Mt. Lebanon High School, Pittsburgh, PA
“The children in Sierra Leone felt special that someone was interested to know what they had gone through in ten years of terrifying civil war. For them, The Singing Tree provided an outlet to express how they felt through art and to heal psychologically. I am glad that people will see the pictures they have made and learn never to let children experience such brutality again.” -Ahmed Sheriff, President, The Cotton Tree Association of Sierra Leone
Drawing of one-handed farmer by Sierra Leone child on the Gingko Singing Tree