Student art brings color to the Lincoln Center year-round
(From left) Jenna Vaccarelli, Solea Merritt, Dakota Pesta and Stanley Rhodes work on Phoenix Academy's portion of a mural in the gymnasium on Thursday, Jan. 16, 2020, to be hung in the adjacent Lincoln Center. The Academy, the district's alternative school, prides itself on pushing students "to learn, to succeed, and to lead."
Student-painted murals have started to bring brightness and color to the halls of Lincoln Center, the main district office of Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools.
In years past, the Lincoln Center has been filled with student art during only one time of the year: when they have their annual art show, usually in April and May.
This year, Brenda Whiteman, the district's arts coordinator, decided that they should try something different by allowing teachers to choose between doing class murals for the show or bringing individual student works.
She said these murals will be kept up year-round, on reversible boards that will be flipped to their blank side in order to showcase other student art in future art shows.
“We have a lot of whitespace here on the walls at the central office, so it brings a lot of color to the building,” Whiteman said. “There are a lot of parents and community members that come through the central offices, and we wanted to represent student work within that context.”
Whiteman said the art show this year will take place on April 20-22 from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. People can come during business hours to see the student work through mid-May.
Whiteman said the content of the murals is decided by the students of each school with the help of their art teachers. She said every school has approached the project differently based on their unique ideas and individual circumstances.
Patrick Brenneman, the visual arts teacher at Culbreth Middle School, said this project gave his eighth-grade visual arts class a great opportunity.
He said the mural boards create a space for student art without spending any of the small amount of funding money he receives for supplies.
Brenneman said for one of the murals, his students closed their eyes and let a song guide their sketches. This piece is called "A Day in the Life" and is based on a song entitled "Day in the Life" by The Deli.
The other mural is called "The Climate of a Skipped Heart," a concept which the students came up with on their own. It portrays a middle schooler with what Brenneman called budding emotions and regular growing-up pains on a dying planet at the end of civilization. It is based on an online art piece by artist Ana Carvalho, which Brenneman said some of the students found and used as guidance to form their own unique work.
Brenneman said he always tries to give his classes at least one special project, and the murals were a great opportunity for this year.
“I always notice that when you put a genuine experience in front of students, how on board they are," Brenneman said. "And how much they activate a mature space within their mind, even at their age.”
The Phoenix Academy High School art club is making a mural with the help of Creative Arts in Public & Private Schools (CAPS) teaching artist, Delaney Susi. CAPS teaching artists work through the Durham Arts Council.
Susi said because the students go through a nontraditional high school experience, they face some feelings of invisibility. She said this mural gave them an outlet to show a message of pride and encouragement.
“The message they came up with was ‘we are Phoenix, we are here and we matter,'” Susi said.
And she said the students' message has come through clearly in the mural.
“Against all odds, and no matter what problems or obstacles that they’re coming up against in their personal lives, that they’re making their high school experience work, and that they’re achieving it against all odds,” she said.
The mural includes images of a phoenix with shackles being broken, a road to success and a rainbow, among other encouraging themes.
Brenneman said the two murals by the Culbreth Middle School class are already on display in Lincoln Center, and they are working on a third.
Susi said the Phoenix Academy mural should be finished by next week.
Whiteman expects the murals to be finished in time for their art show in April.
The schools expected to participate in the mural project this year include Chapel Hill High School, Phoenix Academy High School, Culbreth Middle School, Seawell Elementary School, FPG Elementary School, Rashkis Elementary School, Glenwood Elementary School, Northside Elementary School and Carrboro Elementary School.
These types of projects bring awareness and exposure to an aspect of schooling that Brenneman said doesn’t get enough attention.
“The arts, I feel, form a fundamental part of the student’s education and health, their actual bodily health,” Brenneman said. “We just have difficulty as a culture putting the resources and time into arts education that we need to.”