New Murals in Oregon Department of Human Services Offices Help Create a Welcoming Environment

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Let’s face it. Many government buildings are drab, institutional looking, uninviting, and can also be stressful for visitors and employees. Some Oregon Department of Human Services (ODHS) offices are no different.

“Coming to an ODHS office can be intimidating and frightening. The people who come through our doors are often already stressed, vulnerable and/or traumatized. With the Child Welfare Vision for Transformation, Vision into Action and our Equity North Star, we wanted to provide a space for people to come in and know from the moment they enter: You are welcome. You matter. You are unique. We are here to serve,” said Nancy Byce, a supervisor who works in the district administration office in Beaverton.  

Artist Addie Boswell, created the murals for the Beaverton SSP and Child Welfare (CW) office

That’s why the district came up with the idea to have murals added to several ODHS offices. “Art is a powerful way try to communicate this,” Byce said.  

Artist William Hernandez painted the mural at the Hillsboro Self-Sufficiency Programs office

Byce reached out to Anna Barlow Director at Color Outside the Lines, to help them pick local artists for the project. Barlow works with more than 50 local artists. Color Outside the Lines is a non-profit that works with foster and at-risk youth by providing opportunities with art, music, movement and creativity. Barlow gave them a list of potential artists and the artists they picked supplied some proposed renderings.

“We could have put the Oregon seal or the Oregon flag on the wall, but the hope for the murals that were chosen, is that they represent the communities we serve. Our staff voted on which murals they wanted displayed, and I think they demonstrate the way we approach our work – very people and community centered,” said Herzig, Operations Manager at the Beaverton Self-Sufficiency Programs (SSP) office.

They picked artists:

  • Addie Boswell, who created the murals for the Beaverton SSP and Child Welfare (CW) office, 15425 NW Greenbrier Parkway and the mural in the Hillsboro CW lobby, 5350 NE Elam Young Parkway.
  • William Hernandez, who painted the Hillsboro SSP lobby, 5300 NE Elam Young Parkway.
  • Anisa Asakawa, who created the Tigard SSP office mural,10777 S.W. Cascade Avenue.  

The murals were recently completed, and the reactions are pouring in:

  • “I see these murals as an investment in the community. The more we do to make our offices more pleasant and trauma informed, the better we will be with our interactions. Very representative of the many cultures in Oregon, of people coming together,” Chris Ayule, Program Manager at the Washington County SSP, said.
  • This is from a Tigard office manager: “The team absolutely loved the final product. While Anisa was commissioning this piece, we were checking in with folx in the lobby and everyone really liked it. They liked that it was representative of community and family.”

The art creates a more trauma-aware environment. This is important because many people coming into an ODHS office are coming in specifically because of traumatic experiences or a crisis. For some it could be the worst day of their lives.

Artist Anisa Asakawa created the Tigard Self-Sufficiency Programs office mural

Trauma Aware ODHS’ tool: Trauma Informed Environments can consciously begin with recognizing the impact of physical spaces on those we serve, our colleagues, and ourselves. Our surroundings influence our sense of worth, dignity and mood. We can consciously use our spaces to convey respect, hope and inclusion and to resist retraumatizing those who have already experienced so much adversity. The tool includes many considerations and strategies for teams to explore.

Ayule has noticed something about how the art affects the people ODHS serves.

“I’ve noticed when customers walk in – the first thing they look at is the mural. It’s great to see this as they realize it’s there and they are taking notice. It makes me feel happy. The mural shows a level of positivity. It’s clearly a message of welcome-ness and family.”

About Author

Christine Decker is a Public Affairs Specialist for the Oregon Department of Human Services. Before working in communications she was a working journalist.

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