Notes on a Residency

One of my most successful residencies came recently at a school in Novato. The PTA had funded my residency and also bought 36 – 4’x 8 feet wooden panels for a huge mural project. The Principal wanted all the students at the school to be involved in this project. At the first planning meeting I attended, it became apparent that not everyone was interested in participating in this mural project. I saw some very tired and overwhelmed teachers. Half the teachers voiced concerns about the size and hard work of the project and the other half looked quite bored and not engaged. Also the teachers had absolutely no concept of what could be done as far as subject matter for their grade level.

So I separately meet with the teachers as a group from each grade level to work out their subject matter for the mural. Then I meet individually with each of them to work out further details for their own class needs and curriculum integration. My goal was to engage each teacher and to have them take ownership and pride in the project.

One by one the teachers got excited as the mural took on a life of its own. Full of passionate intensity, the students drew and painted huge images on the panels. Slowly each panel began to take shape with distinctive and versatile forms. A couple of weeks into the project, something extraordinary happened – some of the teachers began painting along with their students. It was a striking image of pure fun!

As the mural project hummed along, the mood of the whole school began to change. Each time I walked through the halls of the school, I would pass a giant painted panel placed outside each classroom, so everyone could see the creative development. Then I had each teacher put a call out for parent volunteers. This was a natural step, because each day the students would bring in their parents to see the progress of each panel. Several parents  came to each session to help out. Some classes put together four panels horizontally to make one very huge image. Others placed their panels vertically to make another image. I witnessed everyone working together like a full rhymed sonnet. Everyone felt joy and astonishment at there own work! The change of the whole school was dramatic! Within nine weeks of my residency everything was different about the school. It was now on the map as a “school of art.”