HOT SPRINGS — A Hot Springs art studio's partnership with the Garland County Juvenile Detention Center served to build trust between the facility's employees and the youths who are incarcerated there.
Mosaic Madness, an art studio on Malvern Avenue, recently visited the center to involve the juvenile inmates in the art of constructing glass mosaics, The Sentinel-Record reported. Their finished product, a display of four separate tree mosaics, now fills the north wall of the center's lobby.
The idea of leading the youths in the artistic endeavor was that of Garland County sheriff's Sgt. Sharon Branstetter, the center's administrator. Branstetter had only positive things to say about the works of art.
"It was just really rewarding and fun to watch them do it," Branstetter said.
Branstetter's idea for the project came from sheriff's Capt. Belinda Cosgrove, who had good things to say about the studio working with the juvenile inmates to construct one in the adult detention center's lobby in 2013. Cosgrove recommended that Branstetter reach out to Alice Franke, the studio's director, about possibly organizing an art project with the youths.
"Sharon came to the studio and asked me if I would be interested in doing a project with the kids in the detention center," Franke said. "I said I'd be happy to."
Franke brought the project materials to the center on April 10 and worked with the youths on the mosaics. The 16 juvenile inmates in the center at the time were split up into groups of four, each of which worked on one of the four tree mosaics that currently hang in the lobby.
Branstetter said that some of the youths were "shocked" at the notion of being allowed to use glass in the detention center. The situation gave Branstetter an opportunity to display her trust in them.
"They looked at me and said, 'You're gonna let us use glass?'" Branstetter said. "I told them, 'Why wouldn't I?'"
Branstetter described helping the juvenile inmates work on the mosaic as "the easiest thing" she had ever done with them. She said that she witnessed the best group effort she had seen "in a long time."
"There was no arguing; there was no fussing," Branstetter said. "Each group worked together, and a couple of the kids got done faster than the other ones, and they just went over to the other table and started helping out over there."
Each of the four mosaic trees constructed by the youths represents a different season in the calendar year. Franke said that she liked having the youths create trees, as they promote the concept of new beginnings.
Franke brought two volunteers to work with the youths, who were accompanied at the center by Branstetter and two Hot Springs School District teachers who teach at the center. She said that working with the young inmates was "very meaningful."
"We have to remember that they're still kids, and that they enjoyed it," Franke said. "They need love and attention, and good, positive things."
Branstetter said that the youths are proud of their work. She said that they showed great enthusiasm when the pictures were hung.
"Before we hung them up, they would come up here, and they could tell me exactly which piece they put into their mosaic," Branstetter said.
Branstetter said that the detention center plans on having Franke back to work with other juvenile inmates.
"Alice has already told me, 'Please, just call me when you want to do this again,'" Branstetter said. "She truly enjoys working with the kids."
Branstetter said that the mosaics were not only an interactive learning experience for the youths, but also a chance for them to prove their trustworthiness. She said that although they are in the juvenile detention system, they still deserve a chance to build trust with others.
"They deserve to be trusted," Branstetter said. "Everyone has to be given an opportunity to prove themselves."
Distributed by The Associated Press.