SPIRIT OF HOPE MURAL : The making of
Transforming a Mural ART Program
These enthusiastic students had a true, passionate interest in the arts and helping others. The students seemed very adamant about helping to shape Allentown into a beautiful and culturally bound place.
The mural would exist where people who might not go out of there way to see art, would still be able to appreciated the art “coming to them”- for them! Perhaps this would help to blend the boundaries between the classes and halt the stereotypes that sometimes permeate a city and its surroundings.
There was a seventh grade student who started a discussion with the group about breaking boundaries. She suggested that we start a stream of communication perhaps through art class pen pals. She was hoping we could break down the stereotypes that students in different school districts had about each other. What a divine and thoughtful idea! This dialogue she captivated us with, began in the classroom and lasted several days. This seventh grade student got everyone thinking about how and why these barriers are built up. Many of these concepts were then used to illustrate breaking down the boundaries in the mural. Our club spoke of gangs and why they think they exist and how it all got started in reference to their experiences and their ideas about the community.
ONE STEP AT A TIME
There was a difference between making a mural for the community versus making a mural with the community. Our goal was to do both.
We also hoped that these initiatives we have set out through the mural program will also lend more support from our immediate community of the district. This would honor the outstanding work the students create. It was also brought to our attention the need for immediate community advocates to acknowledge and support our program and recognize the quality experience, education, and civic duty it perpetuates. The need to prove the significance of the art program is still pertinent !
A lot is revealed when people devote themselves to a certain sports team and get really angry if they see people supporting the opposing team. Students need to see the difference between a challenge of “friendly competition” (in sports, rankings in theatre and performing arts etc…) and pure intentional intolerance for others beliefs and opinions that exists in the Lehigh Valley.
Social Interactions: Learning About the Community and Corresponding with Students of Allentown
After this dialogue, we spoke with an art teacher at Raub Middle School in Allentown and communicated with her students. We were very eager to hear what some of the middle school age students in Allentown wanted to see in the mural that we were proposing for their neighborhood. Raub Middle School is the closest middle school in proximity to the mural site.
We were grateful that the art teacher was able to help us correspond with her students about the types of themes they would like to see incorporated in the mural. Many of the students were from Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic and voiced how much they would love to go to the beach. Many had seen or heard how beautiful the coasts of their homelands were; which was something they wanted to envision. The Allentown students also communicated that they would like to see “anything happy: kids playing, having fun, swimming, laughing, listening to music, dancing, palm trees… just people being happy”.
Before we had any confirmations that other schools in Allentown would be able to collaborate with our project, OMS mural students made it very clear they wanted the mural to be for the Allentown community at large. They decided it would be a nice gesture to put some of the Allentown School District mascots into the mural to show their respect. The students were very excited to research this information. They were not sure how to incorporate the beach scene tactfully into the mural with all the other meaningful images that they felt should be depicted.
OMS Mural students wished they could just eliminate the drugs, violence, gangs, and make it a more racially tense–free place. When the students thought about it, they were upset about how the divider line of the two school districts made them so different. They couldn’t understand how many areas outside of Allentown are getting nicer and nicer and in many areas of Allentown, it seems to be such a struggle. It seemed like there are pockets of people who are trying to help the Allentown to be better place, though there has not seemed to be a unified effort across the Lehigh Valley. There was no big network or web that was bringing EVERYONE together.
OMS students really wanted to do something nice for the area and they were glad about choosing the other students mascots, and hoped they could make a mural that would evoke a sense of pride and respect for the neighborhoods near the Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd. They had hopes for the future and wished for all of the separate community programs and schools in the Lehigh Valley to unite.
Casa De Nosotros was a building that a student drew as he was inspired by MC Escher’s surreal architecture. The mural students were very dedicated to their theme of this structure representing our community of the Lehigh Valley and their projected commitment to making it a place where we can all belong and feel secure, no matter what the age, race, gender, or disability. As the OMS students taught their art teacher, the title of their building “CASA DE NOSOTROS” translates: “THE HOUSE OF US” in Spanish. From an outsider’s standpoint it may appear confusing and clearly embracing so many perspectives. The students explained how this metaphorically was like our community with so many points of view. Sometimes it is difficult to tell which direction to go in, or in some cases to make your own direction when all the others seem to lack in integrity. The students were proud to demonstrate their skill in pulling this piece together; unifying it artistically as they hoped the impact of this mural would be a small version of the real world- to help make the city more unified and peaceful.
Some wanted to get “pumped” and listen to indie rock and punk music while others wanted to listen to classical as it soothed them. What a large mix of kids! We rotated with the music, and we all listen together. The students all seemed to appreciate that very much. It was very pleasing to see how well they responded to the diversity of others and the emphasis on tolerance as well.
This mural so far has brought together the students, teachers, other school districts, seniors, and health practitioners, city officials, and ordinary citizens. We had always anticipated and envisioned a multigenerational and diverse art program though had no idea what it would take to get it started. It was extremely satisfying knowing the amount of people who were in it and will be affected by the program in years to come.
We would like to reiterate what we have found to be the most captivating of the documentation of this program:
To learn every step of the way, enthusiastically plan ahead as much as possible without obliterating the chance of spontaneity. Beyond emphasizing that the program have goals to educate the students, heighten artistic abilities, bring families together, and give homage to the community, it is pertinent to meet the expressive and intellectual needs of the student.
Students and the Community:
The Students’ Evolution
In watching this program evolve in twelve years it was so clear to see the students compassionate sides emerged completely energized to create something beautiful for and with the community and people less fortunate. This became a service learning project that brought the students together and allowed them to utilize their artistic talent and broaden there ability to be a upstanding citizen.
Twelve years ago, when this mural program started in our school, we did not realize how vital a component the community at large would be. We kept our work under our roof. It wasn’t until a few years ago that we started to meet with others in the Lehigh Valley to talk, listen, and collaborate together in person.
We need to note that we, as teachers, parents, and humans need to remember the quest is not even about knowing why an answer, or conclusion is such, more importantly, it is the process of investigating possibilities that continues to make us creative, curious and knowledgeable beings! ( It’s not always just about the end product, but the process itself can be the element that is life changing for an individual)
Process of investigation
It was our desire to provide opportunities and a safe environment for students to grow individually as well as in a social context. We believe that the quest to achieve balance by enriching student’s life with artistic endeavors and bringing the community together through the arts will be successful. We are enthusiastic about the program being a vehicle for nurturing student growth and social change in the community and WITH the community.
It was essential to learn about how the students work and think creatively, individually, and as a group. It was funny how some students absolutely insisted that they only wanted to draw and paint. It was obvious that they were masters of that medium, though it seemed they needed to to be challenged a little more, even when knowing it would sometimes be painfully difficult to get them to try something else. Part of the methodology was to carefully transition students from what they are comfortable with and lead them establish new goals, and push the boundaries with a different medium. After students spend a little bit of time with another medium, then they could choose which direction and medium of art they want to work with. It was so interesting that many chose to work with the medium “they despised” only a few days before. It is also nice that the club is a ‘safe zone” where students encourage each other.
It was challenging to accommodate everyone’s needs and be consistent, though students were assessed and they were encouraged to try out different mediums. We set up areas for those that really wanted to draw, paint, as well as work with clay or glass. When it was time to make these things out of clay, (which was very exciting for most of them), some found this work to be very calming and meditative, where as others found it to be tedious and hard work.
Students Challenged with Different Mediums:
When making the mural, It was challenging that the “whole picture” couldn’t really be seen because of space. The size of the mural is so large that all the art components, and tiles need to be kept in boxes. The students were learning to be patient to see long terms results knowing that it takes time to do sketching, priming, painting, and especially with clay. The drying time of the clay and then the bisque fire, 3 coats of glaze and then another final glaze fire. Then the tiles were ready to look at. The students’ attention and need for instant gratification needed to be stretched, realistically. Mini-goals were set for each group every day, so what they have done could be assessed, and they could see what needed to be accomplished each week in order to see progress. We began to photograph and document the progress and show the students as we went. We also had a few sessions dedicated to laying out all the parts on the floor to see how they all look together.
Students and Community:
Beyond the School
Preliminay sketch (left side)
Preliminary sketch (right side)
Claiming territory or welcoming the differences
When the students were all discussing the differences about the schools, one thing we touched upon was, knowing that a lot of anger and insecurity stems from a sense of alienation: The need to belong and the need to feel important; to be heard. It was important to acknowledge that everyone has something to say, even if they never open their mouth.
This Basically was a lesson on personal aesthetics. Children are taught about pride, to love one’s family, and many teach to respect others opinions., to be seen. There were places in the community where people feel territorial, like they need to stand their ground. They might refer to sections of town that are characterized by their stereotypes, the rich, the ghetto, etc… People of all kinds, including families, groups of friends, teams, and gangs, etc. mark their territory according to their taste. Through all of this dialogue, the students ticked away at ideas they thought would bring the people together.
Casa De Nosotros
Casa De Nosotros: in-progress Painted model 5×5 ft
Casa De Nosotros: ceramic model 5×5 ft
Please join us!
CERAMIC “ALASKAN HUSKY” BEING GLAZED BEFORE GOING INTO KILN :REPRESENTING DIERUFF H.S. MASCOT
LANTERN OUTSIDE OF WILLIAM ALLEN HIGH SCHOOL