Art Provides Healing, Creates Dialogue in State College, PA

Posted by Tim Mikulski, Dec 21, 2011 2 comments

A solitary blue ribbon replaced Jerry Sandusky in this mural by artist Michael Pilato. (Photo from

We often see examples of art used as a way to heal a community following tragedy, whether it be something catastrophic like war or a sudden death, all of the arts can be used as an escape, a catalyst for further examination, or in countless other ways.

While reading through news articles last night, I happened upon a piece written for a student newspaper of Penn State.

It wasn't very long ago that the name of the institution wouldn't cause a shudder within me. Having grown up across the Delaware River from Philadelphia, the school's football (and sometimes basketball) program often appeared on the local news thanks in part to sharing a state with Philly and a huge number of alumni living the the Delaware Valley.

Having gone to a small, liberal arts state school in New Jersey, I will probably never understand the culture of an enormous university like Penn State (although I think NPR's This American Life shed some light on that for me a few weeks ago).

As most of America sat on the proverbial sidelines watching the fallout from the horrifying child molestation scandal unfolding in State College, PA, you could see that the town has a lot to work through as the case continues on into 2012.

This is where an artist can make an impact.

Local muralist Michael Pilato revisited a previous work (pictured above) and created a new one to honor victims of sexual abuse...

"The mural, which is an enlargement of a painting originally done by Pilato's business partner, Yuriy Karabash, shows Penn State's Nittany Lion encircled by a blue ribbon. Painted in shades of blue and purple, the ribbon reads 'Speak out, we will listen,' which Pilato said is meant to encourage other victims to speak out.

Designed to raise awareness of and remember the victims of child sexual abuse, the mural comes as a response to the more than 50 counts of child sex abuse against [Jerry] Sandusky.

Created with support from the Centre County Women's Resource Center and CENTREd on Community, the mural aims to provide catharsis and comfort for a community still in shock from the recent allegations against former Penn State officials and athletic coaches, Ard said.

'People had a lot of emotions. People were moved; people were excited to see the mural. I think that they were gratified to see a public unveiling of something that was designed to help the community heal,' Ard said. 'I think art gives expression to people's deepest emotions.'

Pilato added the university’s mascot isn’t just an advocate of entertainment, but now will serve as a Penn State community-wide symbol of hope and coping for both the community and those who suffered from sexual abuse.

'The lion is a symbol of courage, strength. and dignity, which is exactly what the character of these kids [who suffered from abuse] is,' he said.

However, this isn’t not Pilato's first artistic offering to a grieving community. On November 9, just days after the scandal broke, Pilato returned to his mural Inspiration, painted alongside the Student Book Store on Hiester Street and replaced Sandusky with a single blue ribbon.

Associate Professor of Art John Bowman said the mural is one representing the lessons that can be learned from such an emotional incident. 'It's important to show not only the history of the area, but to generate discussion where we're not only asked what is art, but what is appropriate,' Bowman said. 'I think that's a wonderful teaching moment.'

Pilato shared further plans for the mural, including the addition of phone numbers of local helplines and resource centers.

'There's a lot of good people willing to help out,' Pilato said.

'The whole message of the event was that the kids who spoke out are heroes. All the kids still have a voice, still have the opportunity to become great people, become wonderful people. The news keeps saying that their lives have been ruined,that Jerry Sandusky ruined these kids' lives, and that's not true.'"

2 responses for Art Provides Healing, Creates Dialogue in State College, PA


Lauren says
January 31, 2012 at 10:24 am

Child molestation is such a common crime in this country, and it continues to prove itself as a disgrace and an embarrassment to our community as a nation. It is crucial to raise awareness and strongly encourage safety. Sadly, waves of this sentiment usually occur after the fact. However, an artistic expression of a memorial to the victims is an effective way to show the protective hearts a community has for its children. It is a representation of a group of people who cares enough stand between an innocent child and a potential threat.

  • Please login to post comments.
February 01, 2012 at 3:22 pm

Thank you for your honest and thoughtful comment, Lauren.

  • Please login to post comments.