Is art able to change lives and alter the perception of a community? Artist Roger Whiting, Riley Elementary Principal Bobbie Kirby, and Salt Lake City School District Fine Arts Department Supervisor Rosanne Henderson have shown that it can.
In April 2010 Whiting and Kirby met and discussed collaborating on a mural at Riley Elementary. The original idea that Whiting and Kirby had discussed was to create a mural that contrasted problems in the Glendale neighborhood and the students' ideas of solutions to those problems. When the two met in November 2010 with Henderson to write a grant for the project however, Kirby's positive experiences in Glendale, contrasted by the negative media surrounding the neighborhood, made the original idea seem counterproductive.
"We need to stop defining the Glendale area in terms of gangs and violence. Instead, we need to recognize the diversity, beauty, and resiliency of the people who live there." explained Principal Kirby.
Through further brainstorming between Kirby, Whiting, and Henderson it was determined that the mural should instead reflect the students' past, present, and future (their heritage, their ideas for improving the world, and their idea of a perfect neighborhood)
Whiting met with students of Riley Elementary for 11 weeks from early January to late March to brainstorm, sketch, and create the tiles for the mural. Included in the project were youth in the after-school program as well as youth in the "Colors of Success" program.
-While brainstorming the past, students defined the culture of their parents' upbringing in terms of food, clothing, technology, nature, language, beliefs, etc.
-In brainstorming the presents, students' ideas for changing the world included recycling, working, and helping out the homeless (with detailed discussion about both short-term and long-term solutions for eliminating poverty).
-Finally, while brainstorming the future, students listed all the needs that people have, and individually came up with solutions of how people could meet those needs in the future (needs included food, water, nature, space, family, light, life, education, peace, etc).
After brainstorming, the students drew sketches using visual symbols to represent the different ideas that they had brainstormed for all three sections of the mural. For the past, students each handcrafted tiles as miniature relief sculptures of their sketches, which were later clear-coated. For the present, students were allowed to work in pairs to sketch their ideas and handcraft the resulting tiles. For the future, students all created sketches which were given to Whiting, who then collaged the ideas into a composition representing the ideal future of the Glendale neighborhood. Once the tiles were completed, they were handed over the school district's tile specialists for installation.
Besides the ceramic mosaic mural, Whiting also hosted two family art nights at the school to which parents and siblings of all Riley Elementary School students were invited. Participants at these events (over 100 attended each event) created handcrafted ceramic bowls and puppets.
While Whiting was the artist-in-residence, he allowed for the students' expression to dictate the visual and conceptual presence of the finished mural. "While I can't speak for the impact the mural has had on the community, the beauty and sincerity of the students' artwork taught me to better appreciate their heritage. Their power to change lives is apparent, as they have already changed my own for the better." says Whiting.
This project was funded by an Arts Learning Grant from the Salt Lake City Arts Council with additional support by the Salt Lake City School District Fine Arts Department, Salt Lake Education Foundation, and Riley Elementary.
Public Unveiling of Mural:
Tuesday, June 7 @ 2:30pm
Riley Elementary School
1410 S 800 W
Salt Lake City, UT 84104
Students, Principal, Artist, and Administrators will be present at the public unveiling.
Roger Whiting (Artist) - (801) 380-8924 - firstname.lastname@example.org
Bobbie Kirby (Principal of Riley Elementary) - (801) 974-8310 - Bobbie.Kirby@
Rosanne Henderson (Salt Lake City School District Supervisor of Fine Arts Education) - (801)578-8297 - Rosanne.Henderson@
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About Roger Whiting Murals & Illustration:
Art has the ability to heal wounds between communities, to inspire greatness, and to lift the hearts of those who participate in it. Whiting provides positive art-making experiences to youth who may not experience art as much as others without intervention.
All students are able to create meaningful art. Whiting involves his students in the process of creation from brainstorming up through completion. He approaches projects not only as a leader, but also as a participant and a member of the community.
Whiting's upcoming projects for Summer 2011 include a mural in West Valley City with the teen program of the Housing Authority of Salt Lake County and murals with the teens of the Palmer Court housing facility. Examples of Whiting's previous work can see at his website, http://www.rogerwhiting.com