David Atkinson is medical director of day treatment services at Children’s Health, but he has another passion: Prizzi, Italy. Atkinson, who is fluent in Italian, first visited the Sicilian town of 5,700 in 2015. Now he’s going back and bringing three Dallas artists with him to help spur civic pride in the town.
Prizzi is dealing with high unemployment and a sluggish economy, and Atkinson felt inspired to do something to help.
“[The people of Prizzi] showed so much generosity,” Atkinson says. “The culture there is beautiful, the land there is beautiful, the people are great, and then I saw [that they] have a terrible economy now and they just have very low collective self-esteem.”
Atkinson proposed three ideas to the mayor of Prizzi. The one the mayor agreed to is a three-week long mural project to paint images indicative of the region’s history and culture. The cultural exchange is a win-win, since it will help beautify and enhance Prizzi and simultaneously provide an opportunity for three talented Dallas artists to leave an international footprint.
“I saw that the town had five nice murals, and I thought, ‘If they had double this amount of murals the town might be kind of known as that murals town in central Sicily,’” Atkinson says.
Frank Campagna, Maria Haag and Olivia Cole are the artists selected to participate.
The murals to be painted have been approved by the mayor of Prizzi and work is set to begin during the week of Easter, right after the celebration of Prizzi’s most well-known tradition, Ballo dei diavoli, or Dance of the Devils, which Atkinson says is more than 1,000 years old, and likely originated as a pagan ritual before being co-opted by Christianity.
The ritual takes place in the town’s main square and depicts a scene in biblical lore wherein a newly resurrected Jesus, played by a local villager on a horse, is attempting to find his mother. Meanwhile Prizzi residents dressed as red and yellow demons attempt to stop the meeting, all while harassing the crowd for sweets and money. Jesus of course prevails in the end.
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The event will likely help Campagna, Haag and Cole get a feel for the Prizzi’s cultural identity as the primer dries on their mural canvasses. One of the murals will depict the ceremony itself, while the one painted by Cole will depict Our Lady of Mount Carmel.
“The fact that [Atkinson] loves this town so much to the point where he’s able to put so many of his own resources and pour so much of his time into beautifying a town and also bringing something to the people of the town — for me that’s just something that’s really struck me and really has kind of made the project that much more special,” Cole says.
A documentary of the project and the town’s struggles is also in the works, and Atkinson hopes all these efforts will help boost morale among Prizzi’s citizens.
“This is really simplistic, but there is so much corruption in the political and economic sphere that the only thing that can save Sicily is people getting together and just bettering their community,” Atkinson says. “Not with money, but just for people helping people, and there’s no better way to do that really than art.”