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Digital Age and Art

Students' murals are displayed in sheriff's media studio
by: Vern Uyetake, 
Shannon McDonald, left, and Aurelia Rohrbacker share their two murals Friday at the Public Safety Training Center at the Clackamas County Sheriff’s Office. The West Linn High School students were chosen to create backdrops for the telecommunications studio.

A small crowd surrounded Shannon McDonald and Aurelia Rohrbacker, both seniors at West Linn High School. Local law enforcement officers walked closer to the students as cameras flashed photographs within the Public Safety Training Center.

Often people don't smile when photographed while surrounded by law enforcement. But these girls were beaming - giggling and looking into the crowd.

Behind them, oil paint dries on colorful canvases leaned against the wall. On Friday, the students' two murals were unveiled, followed by a short award ceremony. Then, Clackamas County Sheriff Craig Roberts presented a donation to the West Linn Art Club.

While other high school students were spending their last hour of the school week in a classroom, the two girls were honored by the sheriff's office for their colorful office additions. The large murals will serve as backdrops during award ceremonies, media events, televised and online alerts, addresses to the community, recruiting fairs and at special events.

'We wanted to create a media wall that represented the sheriff's office. And we wanted art students to create what they perceived of Clackamas County,' said James E. Strovink, a county public information officer and robbery detective.

In November, Strovink approached Lynn Pass - a veteran West Linn High School art teacher - with the idea to create a mural-sized backdrop that Roberts could stand in front of when videotaping interviews and messages at the center. Using 8x11 paper, the students created work for Strovink to judge. As it turned out, both McDonald and Rohrbacker's work was chosen, and the students spent months recreating their sketches onto five-feet wide by eight-feet long canvases.

'There were many great ideas submitted, but these two really rose to the top because they expressed something about the people who do great work at the county sheriff's office,' said Pass. 'My job is very important. I get to inspire people to reach their goals.'

Within a landscape-themed backdrop, McDonald's design incorporated Mount Hood and trees beneath a blue sky. A large rendering of a sheriff's badge was painted at the left. The mural also incorporated the sheriffs' motto, 'courage and compassion.'

Rohrbacker's American flag design unified a collage of sheriff's office photos beneath layered red and white horizontal strips. Clackamas County Sheriff's Office badges were used to make up the stars in the blue field.

'I thought this really adds to the richness of the piece, using the sheriff's badge as the stars tied in, not only what they sheriff's office does, but that they do it for their country and their people that live here,' Rohrbacker said.

The 22,300 square-foot training facility that houses the paintings - located near Clackamas Town Center - contains shooting and driving simulators, fingerprinting services, a public gun range and permit office, classrooms, gym and a defensive tactics training room. New to the mix is the telecommunications studio, which also serves as Strovink's office.

'We now have the capability to instantaneously send out news reports to news sources,' Strovink said. 'Time is of the essence when you're dealing with emergencies.'

If an event occurred in the county such as child abduction - called an AMBER Alert notification - Strovink could alert local officials and media with pertinent up-to-the-minute information from the studio.

Previously, when alerts were sent to the office, they were either typed and distributed or used when making phone calls. Now, Strovink can quickly learn the information, stand in front of one of the murals and speak into a digital video camera. From there the recorded video is sent to local media outlets instantaneously.

'We want to keep up with technology. It's here and we're going to use it,' Strovink said.

The mural, used as a backdrop when filming, will also be used on the sheriff's office Web site. When visitors view the site they will soon be able to click on different links to answer questions in a more personal manner. Instead of text explanations about the subject, a video will pop up of the sheriff answering questions 'face-to-face' in front of the mural. People in the department will provide video segments online on any subject, such as crime prevention techniques or boating safety.

'The mission of the sheriff's office is really to create community partnerships,' Roberts said. 'When I saw both of (the murals) I thought, 'wow.''

The students have had their work on display around town before - airport and library exhibits and school displays - but they said this exhibit is uniquely different. Instead of displaying artwork in a venue only to later be taken down, the murals will be displayed at the office long-term.

'This is something to be shared with the community,' McDonald said. 'It's not just something that will be here for a while and taken away. I was really excited about this idea because (the mural) will be theirs.'

Although it's been less than a week, the art is already being put to use. On Monday, a local fourth grader from Boeckman Creek Elementary School presented the sheriff's office with an assortment of stuffed animals to be donated to children that have encountered traumatic events, said Strovink. And she presented her donation in front of a colorful background.

'I was proud to place her in front of the newly acquired mural,' Strovink said. 'Perhaps this is a sign of good things to come in the future. It seems youngsters are providing the most - they painted the mural; provided the comfort of stuffed animals and provided just that much more hope for the future.'

Judging by the smiles, flowers, trophies and certificates of appreciation passed out to Pass and her student teacher Jim Piazza - who helped with the projects - as well as the students, the Sheriff's department is proud of the new artwork and where it came from. Pass said the assignment gave her students an opportunity to use classroom experience in real life situations.

'It's important for people to understand that young people are the next generation and the bulk of them are incredible human beings with a lot of hope for the future and they do good work,' said Pass.

'I enjoy watching the growth of my students throughout the time that they're in high school and helping them to find their own visual voice through the work that they do and letting them see that art is a part of real life.'

The murals are located at the Public Safety Training Center at 12700 SE 82nd in Clackamas. For more information, visit the Clackamas County Sheriff's Office Web site at www.co.clackamas.or.us/.