The Institute Blog

Notes from the Field: Painting A Mural in Harlem

March 30, 2016

Notes from the Field:  Painting A Mural in Harlem

Dr. Christine Chang is a first-year resident in the Harlem Residency in Family Medicine program.  As part of their residency training, residents assist a local nonprofit. Dr. Chang and her fellow residents assisted in beautifying the waiting area at Violence Intervention Program (VIP).


This past month, I had the wonderful opportunity to work with VIP (Violence Intervention Program), an organization that works to support victims of domestic violence. The program does so much for the community in terms of awareness and safe passage out of violent situations  for their clients, that for our residency retreat, we wanted to give a little something back to them.

VIP was looking to revamp their intake waiting area – the first place clients enter when seeking services at VIP. Due to low funds, the waiting area hadn’t been painted in eight years. The idea was proposed to paint a mural in the waiting area. The mural would have to be culturally sensitive (much of the clientele are Latino), inspiring and create an ambiance that would make clients feel welcomed and safe. In college, I majored in studio art and participated in a few murals in medical school, so I jumped at the chance to get my creative juices flowing.

I volunteered to lead the residents in painting the mural. There were many challenges throughout the process. There were unforeseen wall instabilities that needed to be fixed and we needed to find funding. Once we overcame those obstacles, I mistakenly thought it would be smooth sailing. I meticulously labored over the design and schema of this masterpiece. On the day we painted the mural, I laid out paint colors specific to my vision. However, when everyone started painting, the mural took on a life of its own. Colors that I could never have imagined emerged on the wall. Shapes flowing beyond the penciled sketches appeared. When it was done, I stood looking at a mural that was not anything like what I had planned. After the initial shock, I realized that although different, the mural embraced everything it was supposed to be. It was inspiring and oddly enough, reminiscent of home. It perfectly expressed the bold personalities, varied backgrounds and vast experiences of my colleagues. Also, it replaced my self-centered thinking: that in order for this to be a masterpiece, it would have to be exactly how I planned it. Helping plan and create this mural was not only something nice we could do for a great community-based organization but was an amazing opportunity for teamwork, my personal growth and self-reflection. I am so grateful to have been a part of it and for all the people who helped put it together. And, go VIP!