The Thriving Initiative, a local non-profit organization dedicated to serving interpersonal violence survivors, recently created a mural painted on the Isla Vista Community Center in collaboration with the Isla Vista Community Services District.
Founded in 2019, the Thriving Initiative provides undergraduate and graduate students with healing opportunities that do not require them to relive their traumas, according to their website.
As a part of that mission, the Thriving Initiative-sponsored mural depicts a woman driving on a colorful highway road along the ocean as the sun sets, with her eyes looking in the rearview mirror. The mural itself was designed and created by survivors of interpersonal violence, and other community members.
The highway represents the road to recovery and how beautiful that can be, while the eyes in the rearview mirror symbolize the different ways you can look at your past and how you can use it to inform your future. The general motifs of the mural include love, wonder and a sense of acceptance, according to former Thriving Initiative Chapter President and UC Santa Barbara alumnus Vidhisha Mahesh.
The Thriving Initiative’s principal program, “Thriving, Not Just Surviving,” is a seven-week workshop that guides participants through a variety of activities such as yoga, reiki and other creative avenues, all with the goal of bringing survivors together through their healing journeys.
“The center of [our] work is creating a space where you’re not asked to recount your trauma and, instead, you can build a more natural community with survivors of basically any identity,” Mahesh said. “We focus on different art modalities and healing modalities that aren’t traditional therapy.”
The Thriving Initiative debuted its “The Painting Collective: Community Mural” project in Spring Quarter 2022 — an eight-week workshop where a group of survivors designed a mural.
Starting with small, creative tasks like journaling and creating vision boards, the group eventually held discussions among participants about what the mural should look like.
While this workshop was only designed for survivors of interpersonal violence, in partnership with the Isla Vista Community Services District (IVCSD), the physical painting of the mural included members of the UCSB and I.V. communities.
“The whole message behind this curvy road that this woman is driving down is that this healing path is not linear,” IVCSD Community Spaces Program Manager Myah Mashhadialireza said. “It’s curvy, it has changes, but the whole journey is the beautiful part and that’s something that can be celebrated.”
After participants of the workshop finalized the mural design, Thriving Initiative volunteer and lead artist on the project Paige Baldwinson sketched an outline of the mural, placing numbers in various spaces that correspond to different colors. This system allowed anyone — survivors and community members — to come together, pick up a paintbrush and color in the painting.
“The intent was that the creation of the mural was really in the hands of the interpersonal violence survivors, and they got to work together and build relationships with each other. But then, on the day of, the entire community came together and helped paint it,” Mashhadialireza said.
“Nobody knew who was a survivor [or] who was part of the community,” she continued. “It was all about creating solidarity around a topic that can normally be a little bit difficult to talk about, without forcing people to experience any form of stress.”
The Isla Vista Community Center is situated in the center of downtown I.V., ensuring that students and community members will continuously view the mural’s brilliant colors and underlying message for years to come.
“I feel like the image is like an act of resistance in I.V., especially given the prevalence of sexual assault on college campuses, and its just nice to have it centered in the very heart [of Isla Vista],” Thriving Initiative Vice President of Operations Laura Morales said.
Mashhadialireza said that one of the primary goals of placing the mural in such a central location is to spark conversations about interpersonal violence and healing, especially for people who may not be well-versed in those topics.
“When people see the mural, it starts a conversation, which I think is something very powerful,” Mashhadialireza said. “They’ll say something like, ‘Oh, what is the Thriving Initiative? What is their mission? What is something that they do for this community?’ And I think for someone who has never heard about that before, it can be a really powerful experience.”
A version of this article appeared on p. 5 of the Feb. 2, 2023, print edition of the Daily Nexus.