As promised, I'm slowly getting current - sharing stories about older projects. This is a mural I made in collaboration with three ambitious and passionate 4th grade teachers, and three classrooms full of young minds, in Gresham, Oregon. If you're been following me for a bit, you might remember this project from last year. Yep, same school - but different hallway and different kiddos.
About 5-ish years ago, I was a Teaching Artist with Lane Arts Council in Eugene. I would go into schools and make murals with students. Sometimes with one classroom and sometimes with every kid in the school. It was a ton of work. And it wasn't quite a way to make a living. But I suuuure do miss it sometimes! I've been trying to do one of these volunteer projects per year, to get my fix. Read on, to learn how we made this year's mural.
I think my philosophy on mural-making with kids, stemmed partially from the Peace Corps. The Peace Corps' approach to international and community development was drilled into me from my years as a peace corps volunteer. You enter a community (in this case, the school/classroom) to do a project (mural), and you must first get buy-in from them if the project is going to go well. A good recipe for community development, and for getting kids on your side when doing murals together, is to INVOLVE them, rather than tell them what they should do. It works like this: Kids help you decide what to paint, and why. Therefore, they CARE. Therefore, they are PERFECT ANGELS for you while you paint (this was certainly the case during the last two murals I did in this school, where I was adamant about this process.) Therefore, they treat the mural with respect and pride when it's finished, and build some self-confidence in the process. While painting the mural, I try to keep my hands off it, save for fixing minor drips and splashes. But I'm not gonna go in and render out a perfect flower, over the top of one that five kids created together over the course of an hour. Kids make it = kids take pride in it.
Here is how we made a mural design with three classrooms full of kids. I asked the three teachers to come up with a very broad theme that we could use to prompt the kids to think of imagery. They chose this quote by Gandhi: "You must be the change you wish to see in the world." The teachers had also been talking a lot about the idea of "using our voices." Pretty broad, right? But timely. Important. Big. Each kid was assigned to write and draw about what this means to them. I then took all of those assignments, and checked for re-occurring imagery, or words that could become imagery. Here's what came up:
Kids expressed using their voices through:
Art (fitting, right?)
Kindness and anti-bullying
Speech/activism - this came up a lot in various forms. Some kids even specified: Black Lives Matter, immigration rights, "love is love", etc.
Keeping their environment clean and "green"
Learning and school
Imagery that came up a lot:
All skin colors
My job then, was to try and synthesize all of that into one cohesive design, which is what we painted. Before getting our brushes wet, I talked with the kids about the power of "using our voices" through art (because that's what I know best.) I showed a powerpoint, and talked about how muralists like Diego Rivera were able to express some pretty powerful ideas through making public art. I talked about some murals I made in Madagascar, and how they helped teach folks in areas where literacy rates were low. That's the power of using our voices. So, the kids were already empowered about the idea of using their "voices" to show the rest of the school community how they felt. And that again, is the Peace Corps way.
On painting days, I lead about 5 kids out into the hallway at a time, and give them each a paint color and a place to put it. We work in layers - the first layers are purely just covering the wall. The subsequent layers leave more room for expressive mark-making and more careful technique practice. In the end, all of the kid have put a mark or 30 on the mural. And believe me, they remember EXACTLY where they are afterwards. It's so fun! The teachers even captured it on video this year, and made this gorgeous time-lapse! Love. Bucket = filled.