Southeast Missouri State University student publication

SEMO’s art students create mural for Southeast Behavioral Hospital’s courtyard

Thursday, April 21, 2022

Assistant professor of art and design Joshua Newth and his Drawing III students are collaborating with Southeast Behavioral Hospital to create a nature-inspired mural for an outdoor courtyard to uplift patient morale.

The students started planning their designs earlier in the semester. They started working on the mural in early April and hope to have it completed by April 29, weather permitting.

The once-white privacy wall is now covered with paintings that highlight Missouri’s outdoors. The hospital's recreation therapist Alyse Whiting said the outdoor courtyard is used for recreational therapy. It’s a place where patients go on leisurely walks, color with chalk on the sidewalk, play games and enjoy the sun while practicing being in the present. She said, “the mural will be a nice refresher.”

“There’s something that is called the Default System, and a lot of time, we can get stuck in that and just go through the motions,” Whiting said. “When you see something beautiful, when you see art, nature — being outside — it actually can help reset that. I think the mural will do a great job of helping them to have more motivation in their therapy.”

The hospital's community liaison Katherine Broeckling approached Newth about the idea of creating a mural last semester. Newth said he thought this would be a perfect opportunity for his students to learn how art can be a part of the community. The project was incorporated into the curriculum as a part of experiential learning.

Joshua Newth and his Drawing 3 students working on a mural for Southeast Behavioral Hospital. The mural's theme is Missouri's outdoors to help patients feel more connected to the area.
Photo by Cynthia Wallman

“It’s really about the students learning from start to finish how a community art project can come together and how it can benefit not only them in terms of learning — getting their name out there — but also in terms of the community and bridging that divide between the hospital and the university and the Department of Art and Design and artists in general,” Newth said.

The drawing class has 10 students who each have a specific role in creating the mural. The mural is a cohesive design spread across 10 panels on the courtyard wall. It includes paintings of a cardinal, a bluebird, foxes, deer, a honey bee and the Bill Emerson Memorial Bridge.

“We tried to make sure that we are creating a mural that has a connection to the region with the bridge but also the state through the animals that we’ve chosen,” Newth said.

Junior art major Rebecca Byington is working on the water parts of the mural. She said she likes having a project that’s beneficial for the people in the hospital.

“I definitely think it will uplift them, because it’s really just white out here,” Byington said. “It just kind of feels empty. I feel like we are going to fill the space and make it more enjoyable for them.”

Junior art major Evan Coleman is working on trees and background pieces for the mural. He said even though this is his first time working on a mural, he is having a good time and is growing as an artist.

“I think it’s just a way for me to leave a legacy — like a tangible thing to say I did do this and help with this,” Coleman said. “It’s something I can give to somebody else who might not have the same blessings that I have. It feels good just to be a part of something bigger.”

The mural is the first of four to be painted in Southeast Behavior Hospital’s large courtyards. The plan is to have a class each semester paint the same mural in the three remaining courtyards. Newth said he hopes to have all of the murals completed by December 2023.