Going ‘Beyond the Screen’ | PostIndependent.com

Going ‘Beyond the Screen’

Ryan Hoffman

In the digital age, when most people can connect to others around the world using the phone in their pocket, it is all too easy to become distracted and disengaged. The tendency can lead to cyberbullying, digital dependency and other negative consequences.

Those are not the statements of a high school guidance counselor or college researcher; rather, they are the idea behind a new mural painted along the Rifle Creek Trail underpass near 16th Street.

A team of 12 young artists from area high schools worked, under the guidance of instructors Mandy Klauck and Dylan Bentz, on Rifle’s newest piece of public art for nearly two months since early June. The mural, titled “Beyond the Screen,” was publicly unveiled at a presentation this week.

The project is a joint effort between YouthZone and the Bookcliffs Arts Center in Rifle.

It was made possible by a $75,000 grant from the Embrey Family Foundation, which cites “arts for social change” as one of its passions.

The money went toward paying the students and instructors, along with the supplies and the work of Susan Drinker, a Carbondale-based photographer who will produce a short video feature on the project.

The mural, which measures 68 by 9 feet and depicts open skies adjacent to bubbles filled with city-like skylines, is more a societal statement on how technology impacts our lives than a beautification project.

“There’s a balance,” Breanna Ballesteros, a recent graduate of Yampah Mountain High School in Glenwood Springs, said recently while pausing her work on the mural. She, like the other students involved, recognizes the role social media plays in people’s lives.

The point was made clear early on when the 12 selected artists were asked to come to a meeting with ideas of issues that affect teenagers. At least five of them brought up the idea of technology, said Klauck, who teaches art at Rifle High School.

From there, other issues, including dependency and depression, were woven into the piece and the team began sketching out the mural.

While it might seem surprising that a group of teenagers, who are part of a generation regularly criticized for their alleged smartphone dependency, are aware of how big a role technology plays in their lives, Klauck said she is not surprised at all.

“Every person I’ve talked to in the community is surprised at how self aware the kids are,” she said. “I know about the self awareness … it comes out in art projects in school.”

Part of the goal of the mural is to spread that awareness in the community.

“There’s a lot of distractions,” said Savanna Fender, who will be a senior at Coal Ridge High School.

She noted the recent popularity of “Pokemon Go” as another example of how people can be consumed with technology.

Public art might seem like an unusual project for YouthZone, a nonprofit that has provided services to area youth and families for more than 40 years, said Lori Mueller, executive director.

“It’s a specific project, and we haven’t necessarily done a specific project like this,” but at the most basic level YouthZone strives to engage children and teenagers, who might otherwise not be engaged, with their community, Mueller said.

As evident through watching the students work, the mural project accomplishes YouthZone’s core mission, she added.

“They spoke to a social issue, and that first and foremost is what YouthZone’s mission is.”

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