Inaugural Frank Porter Graham Bilingüe Elementary School resident artist Antonio Alanís has been working with students on a mural that celebrates diversity, and will finish before Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools start classes on Aug. 29.
His residency began in May 2022 with the purpose of making a mural to address cultural pride, community-building and multiculturalism, among other themes. Alanís said the project also helps the students capitalize on their artistic gifts.
Alanís said he always knew he wanted to be an artist, and now works in the field full-time. He was a former Spanish teacher who began his career as a teacher and said he has over six years of nonprofit experience working in the profession.
Alanís added that he values representing Latin American experiences in his work.
“A lot of the work that I do comes from my Latin American heritage and background,” he said. “I really like the bold Latin American colors — the emotion that comes from being from such a rich culture and to have patterns that involve Latin America."
Frank Porter Graham Bilingüe Elementary School's mission is to "develop bilingual, biliterate and critically conscious students that are prepared to engage, contribute and lead in the communities that surround them," according to their website.
Alanís said the collaborative mural portrays student values that depict what Spanish means to them. He noted the mural is informed by student decisions and the multiculturalism aspect of working in a school that values speaking and teaching Spanish.
Kat Rangel, the assistant principal of the school, said Alanís’ mural helped make the school more vibrant. It is located in the library, which she described as the heart of the learning center.
Rangel noted the bright, colorful mural can be found on two large walls.
One of the walls depicts a land scene with a tree that includes animals such as a lion and parrot. The other is an illustration of a sea scene with fish, sea turtles, an octopus and other aquatic life.
“Alanís embodies what we hope our students can be in the future,” Rangel said. “He was the right match for our school — he is bilingual and bicultural himself and we knew he would honor our students.”
Alanís holds his work close to his heart. He emphasized the importance of valuing community art and helping students understand that art can be found everywhere.
He said that he talked with students about also involving math in his art.
“There’s fractions, there's paint mixing and all of these things that we normally don't think about," he said. "The residency showed how science and math are interrelated with something so aesthetic such as a mural.”
Kristin Baillie, an intervention specialist with the elementary school, said Alanís was excited to extend his work as a muralist with the bilingual elementary school. She said she first noticed him walking through campus smiling.
"He certainly has one of those spirits that you can see,” Baillie said.
Baillie added everything done at the school is designed to elevate the idea of bilingualism and to show students the importance of taking pride in their culture, font of knowledge, the world they come from and how to share it with other people.
Alanís said as a full-time artist in the area, he will continue to search for ways to give back to the community.
“I believe that education has the power of changing lives,” Alanís said. “I feel that when people have the ability to know what's available to them, all the way from understanding that there are resources available and open to them, we're able to use that knowledge and apply that for something.”
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