Magazine article Sunset

Walls Aflower

Magazine article Sunset

Walls Aflower

Article excerpt

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. …

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