Rowan County court officials recently installed a mural in courtroom number five of the Rowan County Courthouse to help make court less intimidating for children, youth, and families. Courtroom number five is where matters concerning children and families involved with the Department of Social Services (DSS) foster care system are heard. The courtroom is uniquely designed for juvenile abuse / neglect / dependency and termination of parental rights cases, featuring three tables instead of the two typically seen in other courtrooms: one for the Guardian ad Litem (GAL), one for the parent and parent attorney, and one for DSS.
Motivation to pursue the artwork resulted from a site visit by experts from the National Council for Juvenile and Family Court Judges (NCJFCJ). The experts recommended that artwork be added to the otherwise sterile courtroom environment to make the space less intimidating for children and youth, so Chief District Court Judge Beth Dixon applied for a local grant to fund this transformative work. The court was awarded a $5,000 grant for the project from the Salisbury-Rowan Community Foundation through the Foundation for the Carolinas, a nonprofit community foundation serving donors and a broad range of charitable purposes in North and South Carolina.
Local artist Shane Pierce, who goes by the moniker Abstract Dissent, was hired to paint the mural. Images painted on the walls were intentionally designed to be calming, soothing and represent renewal and strength: the lotus flower grows out of mud, butterflies transform, bird feathers are shed as new ones grow, and storks bring new life. These themes symbolize the collaborative efforts that transpire in courtroom number five.
In addition to the mural, Judge Dixon also applied for and received a grant for 1,000 books (17 titles) from Penguin Young Readers. A bookshelf filled with children’s books now sits in front of the bench so children can approach and select a book to keep each time they appear in the courtroom. Extra books are stored in one of the judges’ chambers.
Too Small to Fail, the early childhood initiative of the Clinton Foundation, is leading a public awareness and action campaign that is committed to support parents and caregivers in everyday spaces with tools, resources, and environments to increase children’s early brain and language development, beginning at birth. Rowan County District Court is one of 25 sites nationwide that received the Penguin books grant through the National Council for Juvenile and Family Court Judges.
We are delighted with how the mural turned out. The courtroom is now a friendlier space for children and youth. The books are an added bonus that helps create a friendly environment while promoting reading and learning.
Judge Dixon plans to host a local gathering in the courtroom so the community can see how the courtroom has been transformed, as well as learn about the new book project.