The good wall.
Herb Mack and Anne Cook, co-directors of Urban Academy, a program for students who have demonstrated their lack of interest in traditional school settings through truancy and under-achievement, were seeking a consultant to coordinate a group of these young people in a series of mural projects. I was selected mentor to the group to oversee the proceedings, and asked Howard Schwartzberg, one of my former high school students, now a graduate of Pratt Institute and full-time painter and illustrator, to be my assistant.
Every Friday we met with a small group of students. We began by investigating murals through books, actual observation in the city and then through gallery and museum visits. We affixed multiple images, nailing up ladders and a gigantic slide role, painting, dripping, obliterating, tearing and applying translucent washes. "That gaping hole calls for a figure coming out or coming in." "I saw a mannequin somewhere in the school." "Where?" "I'll show you." Rob came back holding half a figure.
"Perfect." "The whole piece is too chaotic." "Let's contain it, define it, frame it." "A light bulb, that's an idea."
A theme emerged from all these images: ladder of success, door to the future, the golden (slide) role, "do not detach," stay in school. Choices, like the work itself--a commitment is necessary to make your mark, enhance the piece, your life, stick with it, persevere, straggle, accomplish, take pride, fulfill. Why Albert Einstein? Subliminal choice--the most prominent dyslexic sticking his tongue out at--schools, education? He failed math, could not read very well, but he hung in there ... and soared.
E = [mc.sup.2]. Education equals motivation times the speed of life squared, moxy times courage 2.
"This eclectic piece was being produced in an atmosphere different from traditional art classes. Students went beyond the stereotype into a free-thinking creative process. Each time we worked the students' eyes kept opening up," said Schwartzberg proudly.
"A good wall has to do with how much pride goes into it--now if our wall is missing anything it's not pride," added Alexis, one of the student muralists.
Other walls, through the auspices of the alternative high schools and programs office and the urban institute, are crying for attention and will be answered. There is a waiting list, not only of walls, but of students wishing to make their marks.
Bob Sarnoff is an artist, writer and teacher from Belle Harbor, New York.
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|Title Annotation:||Urban Academy student murals|
|Date:||May 1, 1991|
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