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Reading, Pennsylvania. October 2021

This is the last of my 2021 SIDE SHOW Series for the year. More to come in 2022.

While visiting friends and family in Reading, Pennsylvania I was invited to meet local Artist/Muralist Michael Miller to learn more about his connection to public art and the collection of murals that have been created in West Reading and the Greater Reading community.

I was excited to learn that Michael was currently working on a large mural titled “Hope Blossoms” in collaboration with the Berks County Suicide Prevention Task Force. Local Artist Gregory Didyoung designed the 45-foot-tall mural.

Over several months, Michael orchestrated many painting workshops in various locations throughout the city. Many members of the community contributed to the mural by painting panels that had the design printed on them, sort of like paint by numbers, but on a grand scale. I had the opportunity to spend the afternoon painting a few panels with Michael and a group of volunteers. It was a very rewarding experience.

According to a description by Didyoung, the overall theme of the mural is hope, with a neon-outlined head tilted up toward the word in large pink lettering. The mural’s contrasting colors and dark background reflect the highs and lows of mental health, while the 1980s aesthetic highlights the prime decade when middle-aged men in Berks County were most affected by suicide. Inside the head, a cluster of flowers represents the beauty, complexity, and growth of the human mind. Surrounding the head are falling abstract Tetris pieces to illustrate how, unlike a puzzle, Tetris allows for flexibility and the acceptance that is it OK when pieces do not always fit perfectly together.
The funding for the project is largely covered by the proceeds of the ruOK Berks 5K run and 1-mile walk that Threshold (a local organization)has been sponsoring for the last several years, along with donations from Service, Access & Management, the Berks County MH/DD Office and the Science Research Institute at Albright College.

The following groups and organizations served as mural painting partners:
Science Research Institute, Albright College Students
Drexel University/Tower Health College of Medicine, Students, and Staff
The Highlands at Wyomissing, Senior Living Residents
Olivet Boys and Girls Club
Berks County Juvenile Probation Office
Pennsylvania Counseling Services Inc.
Penn State Berks, Students and Staff
Penn Street Farmers’ Market
Reading Hospital Emergency Medicine, Residents and Staff
Schuylkill Valley Middle School and High School Art Club
Threshold Rehabilitation Services, Staff, and Individuals
Hope Springs Clubhouse, Members and Staff
Wyomissing Area HS Aevidium Club and Service Club
Berks Suicide Prevention Task Force Members
Hopeful Minds
Reading Avenue Painting Guild

The mural is located behind Threshold Rehabilitation Services’ Mosaic House at 525 Franklin Street in Reading.
The beautiful 45-foot mural is sponsored by the ruOK Berks campaign from the Berks County Suicide Prevention Task Force. The artwork is designed to help spread the word about the services provided through ruOK Berks and to help lessen or erase the stigmas associated with mental health.

The mural took shape throughout late September/early October as each panel was carefully added to the Mosaic House. This is when I was able to participate so I was able to see most of the finished panels.
“We believe the mural is symbolic in the sense that it was painted in sections by different groups of individuals within our community,” said Michele Ruano-Weber, Deputy Administrator for the Berks County Office of Mental Health, and Developmental Disabilities.
“When each piece came together, it created this beautiful piece of artwork. The Task Force wants to provide education to groups within our community to learn to recognize when someone is struggling and help them find the assistance they need so that our community will see a reduction in the number of lives taken away by suicide.”

About Michael L. Miller
Michael L. Miller is a Kutztown University Alumnus and earned his MFA from the Maryland Institute, College of Art in Baltimore, Maryland. After showing his artwork for several years in the Philadelphia area, he became interested in community-based art. This interest stemmed from the Mural Arts Program in Philadelphia. Over the past 15 years, he has created collaborative murals together with hundreds of people and many community organizations in the greater Reading area. He taught art in Berks County for nearly 30 years.

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