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Walls aflower.

When kids and artists collaborate, it's sometimes hard to tell who's getting inspiration from whom

GO PAINT ON THE WALLS!" Children rarely hear that command around the house, but it's the message of visionary programs throughout the West. The walls in this case are the broad, blank sides of public buildings--usually schools, sometimes old hotels or new low-income housing units--which are massive canvases to school-age artists armed with buckets of paint and imagination. The result is public art of the most heartfelt kind.

Working with professional artists, the students produce vivid creations that often blend fantasy with reality, childlike charm with social commentary. Subjects include local history, concern for the environment, regional identity, and cultural heritage. Most of the artists, who are hired by schools or other public agencies, are painters and muralists, but some come from other disciplines in the visual arts--even ceramics, photography, or stained glass. It all depends on the needs of the site, which isn't always a wall, and the interests of the kids, which are boundless.

Once a project is funded, the artist explains the general goals to his or her student apprentices, who are turned loose to develop solutions. The students' rough sketches and ideas are then culled and organized by the artist into a cohesive plan. Perhaps the most important lesson for the children is that the behind-the-scenes work--developing a theme, researching it, selecting the visual elements, agreeing on colors, and gathering materials--usually takes more time than the final, most visible step of putting it all together. For a mural, the planning process also includes creating a scale drawing of the project overlaid with a grid. When drawn full-size on the wall, the grid allows the artist's young assistants to enlarge their visions accurately.

How to get involved

As is the case with most extracurricular activities in schools today, a project of this sort doesn't happen by itself--it takes outside money and parent and teacher involvement and energy to get things going. The first step is to contact your school's PTA or principal to find out how to get the ball rolling, or if something is already in the works. If you strike out there, call your school district's administrative offices or your state's arts commission. Either way, be prepared to be involved for the long haul. While some projects are completed in a week, many take a full year to plan and execute.

Sometimes a project's entire budget is funded; other times, state or other agencies can provide only matching funds. Usually, the budget allows for little more than the cost of supplies and a modest salary for the artist--sometimes, not even that. The entire budget for the 230-foot-long mural at Long Beach Day Nursery, for example, was a mere $2,850. The project took four months. Fortunately, the artist was motivated by rewards beyond the fiscal ones.
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Copyright 1994 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:wall-painting projects
Author:Whiteley, Peter O.
Date:Jan 1, 1994
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