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Our all-school outdoor mural.

Our all-school outdoor mural

THERE HAD BEEN A GROWING CONCERN in our school regarding graffiti on the outside of the building, as well as sporadic vandalism done to the interior bulletin boards. To help address this problem, we planned an outdoor mural that would involve the school and the community. The site overlooked a small playground outside the kindergarten classroom, which was frequently used on weekends and after school as a neighborhood park.

Nine teachers, from grades 1-6, expressed an interest in participating. We made a scale drawing of the wall, and assigned areas to each class. We chose the theme "The Child's World" in order to unify the project and to derive maximum participation from the children. In coordinating and planning the mural, we kept in mind the dual aims of a stylistically unified work which involved a diverse group of children. It was important to approach it in a way that would not prove technically frustrating or too demanding for the younger children.

The classes visited the assigned sections of the site, trying out various poses along the walls, windows and doorways. Each group of children came up with ideas for representing activities, scenes and pastimes which were important to them. They included a fourth grade softball game, fifth graders playing jacks, a snowball fight, a gymnastics class and some third grade day-dreamers.

During the weeks that followed I met with each group. We discussed the relationship between the physical areas of the wall and the activities the students were depicting. One fifth grader's creative use of space depicted a horizontal figure in the area below the windows holding a kite which climbed into the long, narrow area between the windows.

To begin, the students used brown kraft paper to create mock-ups. They were shown how to arrange and trace one another in the various action poses they were depicting. We decided to use life-size figures in order to achieve a unified flow of action in the composition, and each class was assigned the same palette of colors to work with in order to integrate the work stylistically. The students were excited at the prospect of actual members of the classes being permanently represented on the school building.

Teachers, parents and administrators pitched in to transfer the mock-up to the wall. We did not use a grid system, but chalked the back of a mock-up and rubbed the outlines onto the wall. While we had hoped to retain the mock-up for future talks and displays about our mural, it soon became consumed in the transfer process. As the children painted, we all wondered whether their work would remain graffiti free when finished.

At the completion in June, we celebrated with a party for school and community. Other classes had worked with a resident architect to update the playground, and had planned a long-neglected garden.

We returned in September to find that the mural had not been vandalized and was still an oasis of urban pride for our schools and neighborhood.

PHOTO : The fifth grade class' solution to the use of space in mural design.

PHOTO : Playground activities are the sources of this section.
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Author:Wallach, Nancy
Publication:School Arts
Date:Mar 1, 1989
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