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Reading mural rededicated to all those facing mental health challenges

Reading Eagle - 9/21/2023

Sep. 21—Dr. Edward B. Michalik was searching for just the right quote for the rededication of the Hope Blossoms mural when someone emailed him a saying by Desmond Tutu: "Hope is being able to see that there is light, despite all the darkness."

The words of wisdom from the South African Anglican bishop and human rights activist perfectly fit the occasion, said Michalik, president and CEO of Threshold Rehabilitation Services.

The word "hope" is painted in all-capital neon-pink-outlined letters across the top of mural on the Cherry Street wall of Threshold's Mosaic House Clubhouse, 525 Franklin St.

The artwork was first dedicated in 2021 to those in the greater Reading community experiencing mental-health challenges or contemplating suicide, their families and friends, and the family members and friends of those who died by suicide.

It also recognizes the efforts of first responders, health-care professionals, social workers and others who support those struggling with mental-health challenges.

The rededication Tuesday recognized the newly installed overnight lighting of the artwork. It also celebrated the recent partnership of Albright College's Total Experience Learning and Masterpiece AR in integrating augmented reality to the mural.

Masterpiece uses the technology to make the artwork appear to become animated and transform the way in which it is experienced.

The effect is activated by aiming a cellphone camera at a QR code posted on the light poles along the 500 block of Cherry Street in front of the mural and then aiming the camera directly at the artwork.

Reading is the third location in the U.S. to showcase Masterpiece's art technology, according to Threshold.

The organization hosted Tuesday's event in collaboration with the Berks County Office of Mental Health and Developmental Disabilities and the Berks County Suicide Prevention Task Force, all of which offered educational information.

Members of Alvernia University'sPsi Chi and Psychology Club also distributed information and affirmative messages.

Psi Chi, an international honor society, works to promote excellence in scholarship in all fields, particularly in psychology, and to advance the science of psychology.

In addition to celebrating the mural's enhancements, the occasion marked national Suicide Prevention Month.

Held throughout September, the observance helps raise awareness of and spread hope and information to those affected by suicide or thoughts of suicide.

More than 50 people, including Iocal officials and host-agency affiliates, attended the event.

Remarks were offered by county commissioners Christian Leinbach and Lucine Sihelnik; Pam Seaman, administrator of the county office of mental health; Michael Miller of Albright's Total Learning public art studio and mural artist Gregory Didyoung.

More than 1,000 area residents collaborated in painting the mural and in funding and coordinating the installation of lighting, Miller and Michalik said.

The piece now belongs to the community, Miller said, and has become a landmark.

"It's ours," he said, "and that is the beauty of public artwork."

Didyoung explained the symbolism of the mural, which features a neon-blue-outlined silhouette of a head, tilted slightly upward toward the large letters spelling hope.

The profile is intentionally non-specific and could represent anyone, he said.

Shapes reminiscent of video puzzle pieces appear to fall around the head, a reminder that mental health isn't always a perfectly fitting puzzle, Didyoung said.

The flowers painted within the head convey the beauty, complexity and growth of the human mind, he explained, and the bright colors contrasting with the black background reflect the highs and lows of mental health.

"The thing that we really like to highlight in the mental health community is the message that's behind us," Seaman said, gesturing to the mural. "Have hope in the fact that we know that people with mental illness can achieve recovery."


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