Expression of trust: New mural brightens Siebel Center wall

Published 4:59 pm Monday, August 8, 2022

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If you’ve been downtown to mail a letter or send a package you’ve probably noticed the new addition to the Michael H. Siebel Family Visitation and Exchange Center.

Spanning nearly the entire south wall, facing the Post Office, is a newly painted mural depicting an open hand with silhouettes of butterflies flitting above a line of brightly colored bars.

“They kind of gave me a blank canvas and talked more about the Parenting Resource Center (PRC), the Siebel Center, the engagement of the community,” said artist Jake Levisen, who is also an art teacher at Austin High School. “With that it was pretty awesome having a blank canvas to work from and working from their own ideas and my own interpretation of it. This was what was created.”

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The project took about two weeks to complete from start to finish, Levisen said.

“I got a good tan,” he said with a laugh.

The actual act of painting the mural on the side of the center may have taken around two weeks, but the idea was in the process for around two years.

The project Levisen would come to paint found its spark of creation in Chicago.

“I remember going to Chicago and just seeing all of this urban art work there and how it really amplified the sense of community and identity of the community,” said Parenting Resource Center Executive Director Gema Alvarado-Guerrero. “I wondered why we didn’t have that in Austin if we really celebrate our culture and how united we are.”

Though the idea was there it had to wait as it ran into funding limitations and the COVID-19 pandemic.

Levisen had already done three murals for the Parenting Resource Center, and had been painting murals as a summer outlet for close to five years. He turned out to be the obvious choice to further augment the look and feel of the PRC.

Not long into Levisen’s work, those working at the PRC were already excited to see the rest of the project after seeing where it was going.

“I remember at one point calling my colleagues: ‘come look at the hand,’” Alvarado-Guerrero said. “We just came out and stared at it and took pictures of it. We were just really amazed. I know Jake does phenomenal work, but this just blew my mind.”

The mural itself is an overarching notion of inclusiveness that reflects Austin’s own make-up.

Levisen said he wanted to create something that reflected the warmth of a community that welcomes everybody.

“The biggest thing was the act of giving and receiving and that open hand of trust,” he said. “With our community, I also wanted to add in all of the different colors and the transition of colors because for anybody, at any moment, you’re always in transition and that’s why that open hand of trust is very important.”

Levisen also went on to say that the silhouettes of butterflies also tend to reflect the transformation of Austin.

“We’re transforming our lives daily, if not hourly, and I think Austin and the center, and all of the opportunities they provide for the community is right there with it,” Levisen said. 

While Levisen has been painting murals over the last few summers, most of them have been indoor paintings. This mural was an exciting chance to create an outdoor mural entirely free hand.

For Levisen, it was another opportunity to brighten the community.

“I was just pumped up to have something showcased to the community outside of an organization,” Levisen said. “Art brings everyone together.”

Alvarado-Guerrero said that not only is Levisen’s piece a bright and attractive addition to the building, she hopes it is a reflection of Austin.

“We hear that Austin is a unique community because we have so many resources. We embrace each other,” she said. “We’re not a perfect community. We have a lot of learning and growing to do. It’s just the fact that people come every day to call Austin their home, and we want them to know we’re here with open arms, ready to help them and that we are a melting pot in this community.”