Murals and morals

Having already chalked up an impressive roster of collaborative projects around the world, Max Levi Frieder is here on a creative odyssey to initiate community-based public art.

murals 521 (photo credit: courtesy)
murals 521
(photo credit: courtesy)
The youngsters at the Youth Renewal Fund (YRF) English Center in Ramle just had to go with the flow. Mind you, they had come along of their own volition, to help create a mural in the center’s yard, but Max Levi Frieder’s enthusiasm and joie de vivre simply swept them along.
Frieder, 23, is a community-based public artist from New York who is in Israel to work with teenagers from various socioeconomic and ethnic backgrounds all over the country. The fruits of their shared labor are works of art that lift the spirits and fill one’s heart with the joys of whatever season is going.
Prior to his Ramle jaunt, Frieder spent a few days with kids in Tirat Carmel, and there are other slots lined up at Ashdod, Hofit, Jerusalem and Kibbutz Sde Boker and Kibbutz Revivim in the Negev. The YRF’s mission statement talks of providing children from low-income families with help in core educational areas, so the confluence with Frieder, on the Painting the Future project, was a natural fit.
As Frieder and I chatted in the entirely un-New Yorky winter sunshine, the Ramle middle- and highschool students mixed paints and applied brush to cloth as they gradually and joyously moved the mural’s evolution along. From time to time Frieder would call out some words of encouragement or advice, and point one of the youngsters in the right direction. Even so, while it was clear that Frieder had his steadying hands on the rudder, it was the students who were plotting the course and getting the actual job done.
“I don’t see myself as the creator of these murals, but as a facilitator,” declared Frieder before illuminating just exactly what a community-based public artist does. “There is a big difference between being a community artist and a public artist. A community artist is someone who comes and teaches classes, and does community workshops, and gets people together to teach them some skills. A public artist is usually...
commissioned by a city or a state or a corporation to make public art. To me, neither on their own is as strong as when you put the two [roles] together.”
“The idea,” says Frieder, “is to use communities to make art for themselves, so you have a community coming together, especially children, to make art that’s going to be a monument to their community.
I see myself as a facilitator to give other people the opportunity to represent themselves.”
His tender years notwithstanding, Frieder has already chalked up an impressive roster of collaborative projects around the world. Last year he graduated from Rhode Island School of Design – with particular emphasis on community-based public arts – and also enjoyed a six-month sojourn in New Zealand, which took in studies and internships under the aegis of the Elam School of Fine Arts in Auckland, as well as plenty of fieldwork, in 2011.
“I worked with communities all over New Zealand,” Frieder recalls. “It was a fantastic experience, and the work really did bring people together.”
Thus far, Frieder has overseen artistic projects in New Zealand, America, Costa Rica and now Israel, with people of all ages, but says that the emphasis is on the younger crowd.
“It always starts with the kids, but there is absolutely no age limit on who can take part in this work. I have had two-year-olds and people aged 90 making murals. Everyone can contribute their skill and whatever it is they have to offer from their lives.”
Meanwhile, in Ramle, lots of locals were getting in on the act.
“The secretary [at the YRF center] has become a huge part of this, and we have had volunteers from America, from the Cayman Islands and from Ireland who have all worked on this,” says Frieder. And the proof of the pudding was there to see, across the yard.
“Look over there, there are people in their fifties painting, and kids aged nine.”
Part of Frieder’s mission is to get the message out there, as far and as wide as possible, that there are things that communities can create together. That also means making sure that the work of art the members of the community make is accessible, and can be viewed by as many people as possible.
“You know, in the past, I have done and facilitated murals on walls,” he notes. “You think that if you do a painting on a wall of a building it is permanent and will last, but that just isn’t the case.
Buildings and walls are often demolished.”
With this in mind, the Ramle painting was created on a large piece of canvas, 10 meters long, which will be moved to a more convenient spot at some stage.
“For a start the painting will be covered with a protective layer, so it will be durable,” Frieder explains, “and I think it is going to the public library or city hall, so it will be exhibited in a more public space and everyone can see what these people here did for their community.”
According to YRF director Galit Toledano-Harris, the Frieder project offers an opportunity for some field educational work as well as a creative means for the youngsters to express some of their beliefs and aspirations.
“The children speak to each other in English and this is a wonderful opportunity for them to take part in a creative and inspiring process, and to enhance their English vocabulary. We are also curious to see how the students view the future. Are they focused on their own future, and [do they] prefer to represent their own future career, their home, their property and families, or are they more interested in the future of the country and peace, or maybe the future of the world – progress, technology and science?” Judging by the work in progress at Ramle, the youngsters were principally into having some fun together and producing something aesthetically pleasing.
FRIEDER SAYS it is very much a two-way street.
“I get so much from these kids,” he notes, “and it is fascinating to see how kids from different communities work together and express themselves. I just worked with mostly underprivileged kids from a secular school in Tirat Carmel, who were great. In a few weeks I’ll be going back there, this time to work with students from a religious school. It should be interesting to see the differences in their work.”
The project leader says he is particularly excited by the Jerusalem leg of his long creative odyssey here.
“I am going to be doing something with the ICCI – Center for Interreligious Encounter with Israel. They bring Palestinian kids from the West Bank and Israeli kids together. Between February 19 and 21, I am going to be working with severely disabled Palestinian and Israeli children at Alyn Hospital.
That’s not going to have anything to do with them being Palestinian or Israeli, it is about working with disabled children and how art brings them together.
I think it’s going to be a lot of fun.”
Just in case you can’t get to any of the nationwide Frieder project locations, fear not, photographs of the works of art, and the young creators, will be displayed at Beit Hatfutsot – the Museum of the Jewish People in Tel Aviv in March.
“The photos will show the works and also the process of making them,” explains Frieder. “And there will be a documentary I am making all about this.”
And there’s more lined up where that came from.
“The Beit Hatfutsot exhibition will run until August, and then I’m coming back to do a mile-long mural there,” says Frieder.
A mile? “When they built Beit Hatfutsot, in 1973, the building was way too big, and there are still plenty of spaces that are empty. There is a big hall which is unused, and there is going to be paint everywhere there for three weeks.”
It seems that this is going to be a megaproject.
“Each day will be divided into five slots, and there will be up to 150 people in each slot. That’s 40 or 50 families. People will have to reserve ahead of time and each family will get around a meter of the mural to work on, and will be instructed on how to work.”
There will be three friezes running around the hall walls in parallel.
“Each mural will take up a third of the height of the walls so, when one is finished, we’ll raise it up to the top of the walls, then the second will go in the middle, and then there’ll be the bottom one.
They estimate there’ll be between 10,000 and 20,000 people making this one work of art.”
Frieder is also aiming for as wide a demographic spread as possible.
“I’d like to have a haredi family working next to gay people, and Ethiopians and Arabs. I want it to be eclectic.”
Like with the murals he is currently helping to assemble, Frieder says the idea is to make the work accessible to everyone.
“They are eventually going to cut the Beit Hatfutsot mural into pieces and send them to Jewish museums all over the world. Then, hopefully, people from the communities in the Diaspora will then come to Israel. The project is called Israel Artolution, like an evolution or a revolution.”
For more information about Max Levi Frieder and Artolution: For more information about the Youth Renewal Fund: