MIKE Program mural in Northeast Portland a memorial with a message
by Anna Griffin, The Oregonian Friday August 28, 2009, 5:00 PM
You're probably sick of mural stories. After all, there are a million murals in our painted city, with plenty of new ones on the way now that Portland leaders have seen the cultural light and loosened restrictions on what business owners can paint on their property.
More is better, as this tale illustrates.
At Dr. Michael Hartnett's funeral nine years ago, friends and former colleagues approached his wife to ask an important, if untimely, question: How are we going to honor Mike's memory?
Hartnett was a nephrologist at Legacy Good Samaritan Hospital & Medical Center and the Northwest Renal Clinic. He died of lymphoma at 58 after spending his career working to promote healthy lifestyles in the Pacific Northwest.
After some time grieving, his wife, Dr. Cheryl Neal, planned to create a "living memorial" to her husband: a nonprofit that would work to guard against chronic kidney disease, particularly in African American and Latino children from poor and broken homes.
Volunteers for the MIKE Program -- named after Hartnett but also short for Multicultural Integrated Kidney Education Program -- talk to school health classes about nutrition and exercise, take students on field trips to hospitals and dialysis clinics, and provide mentors and career guidance.
"You ask kids what their biggest health need is, and it's relationships," Neal said. "They don't have good health role models."
The DSI NE Portland Dialysis Clinic, at Northeast Seventh Avenue and Hancock Street, works with MIKE. Last year, clinic administrators approached the nonprofit with their own problem: Graffiti artists were repeatedly taking advantage of the clinic's big western wall, an expanse of white that was a magnet for gang-related tagging.
The Regional Arts and Culture Council, a nonprofit that shepherds public investment in the arts, hooked MIKE up with Robin Corbo, a muralist whose work includes the painting outside the Community Cycling Center on Alberta Street and one honoring women on Interstate Avenue.
She met with students at the Portland Occupational Industrialization Center, an alternative high school in North Portland, to brainstorm. Worksystems Inc. helped recruit interns and paid them minimum-wage salaries to do the painting alongside Corbo and volunteers.
The total cost: about $20,000 in public and private grants. The finished product: a 2,000-square-foot sunrise-to-sunset tour of all the ways young people can help protect their kidneys.
The characters bike, walk, sing, dance, snowboard on Mount Hood, practice karate and enjoy a picnic of healthy food. There's definite attitude: The sun, for example, sports sunglasses, a handlebar mustache, a goatee and the look of a guy in on the joke. The artists modeled many of the faces after students in the MIKE Program.
Everyone involved gets something: For the student interns, summer jobs and real-world experience. For the clinic and neighborhood, a splash of color and graffiti deterrent. For Neal, a memorial to her husband. For the rest of us, the mural, which will be dedicated at 4 p.m. Sunday, is a rainbow-hued reminder to take better care of our bodies.
"Mike would have loved it," Neal said.
-- Anna Griffin; firstname.lastname@example.org