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Painting the town.


When a community project turns into an event, everyone benefits.

The holiday season in Memphis is an extra special time for children in the Memphis City Schools because they are invited to create the decorations for the downtown mall. Night-time lighting on the outdoor mall was simply not practical because the mall is occupied mostly during the daylight hours. Therefore, it was suggested to the Center City Commission that the decorating of the mall be made a public affair. Why not let the school children of the city design and decorate the windows of vacant buildings downtown? The idea was not only to create beautiful designs that would be appreciated during the daylight hours, but to involve the total community in a worthwhile endeavor.

The Center City Commission liked the idea, and the planning began. Local artists and businesses, as well as school children were invited to participate. Letters were sent to schools, universities, colleges, advertising agencies, art schools, architects and businesses. Local artists could work with art teachers and students to plan, prepare and execute the designs on the windows. The response from the community was great!

The Memphis Center City Commission provided funding to purchase brushes and a few other necessary items. Local businesses were asked to contribute what they could. A large paint company generously provided paint, buckets and hats at a very low cost. Their chemists advised planners on a paint formula that could be easily removed from the windows after they were painted. Businesses in the downtown area agreed to donate and serve hot chocolate and other refreshments to the young window painters and others that were involved.

Long before the actual painting began, a local architect and planning agency had a chili lunch for all the adult artists and art teachers who had agreed to be part of the project. At this luncheon art teachers were paired with one or more of the community's professional artists. Among those present were artists and art educators from Memphis State University, Memphis Academy of Arts, Shelby State Community College, Southwestern University and others from advertising agencies and architects' offices from around the city. The meeting was a warm and friendly get-together. Details were worked out between art teachers and their appointed "art critics."

The next phase of the project involved the teachers from the public schools working with their students. Each school provided up to six students as a "painting team." With the help of the art teachers, the students created different ideas that would be appropriate for the holiday season. These were combined and/or revised, and after a main theme and design had been decided upon by the students, the professional artist paired with the school came out and helped give final suggestions for the window designs. This critique was an excellent way for the students to work with a professional, and it gave the adult artist a chance to see the city schools.

The final phase of the decorating project was the actual painting of the windows. The teachers and students met at their designated windows early in the morning. The artists were on hand to give any assistance the students might need. Each painting team was given a kit that contained the basic colors -- red, yellow and blue -- plus white. Also in each kit were water, mixing cups, paint hats, name tags, assorted brushes, litter bags and paint sticks. The task was to draw the completed designs on the windows and then paint them. Even though the day was wet and cold, the students' spirits were kep high by the hot chocolate and goodies that were wheeled around in carts by local businessmen.

A few days later, a reception was held downtown for the student painters, their parents, the professional artists and the teachers. The students were recognized for their efforts, and special gift of an 8" x 10" (20 cm x 25 cm) color print of each school's window was given to the participating art department.

The "Paint the Town" project was one in which the community worked together to create a feeling of unity at a very special time of year. Over thirty schools participated and over forty community artists gave of their time to help assist the students in executing their window designs. The entire project took a tremendous amount of planning and organizing. It also took some money, donations, energy, and a whole lot of enthusiasm. It was a project that had far-reaching appeal.

PHOTO : A painting team, including four elementary students, their teacher and an artist/educator

PHOTO : smile for the camera.

PHOTO : The elementary schools were given the lower windows.

Rollin Kocsis teaches art in the Memphis City Schools, Memphis, Tennessee.
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Author:Kocsis, Rollin
Publication:School Arts
Date:Dec 1, 1989
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