Day treatment students learn about art by painting mural

June 10, 2004|JULIE McGLOTHLIN

The students are painting all over the walls. And that’s just fine with the teachers.

Students at the Bruce Hall Day Treatment program recently painted a mural inside their building. Since the first of June, the 14 students of the summer session have worked with Berea artist Alfredo Escobar to create a mural across three walls, each with scenes in varying sizes that display a motivational message in images and words.

Against the background of the dull, pale yellow wall, the largest mural shows fantastically colored tree roots reaching out toward each other with small hands. Above, a message reads “Success is a choice.” On the wall across the room, one of the smaller paintings shows the words ‘trust,’ ‘love,’ and ‘hope’ amidst the roots of a tree.

On the adjoining wall, another small painting symbolically illustrates hands reaching up out of the mud, stretching to reach a rope above them. One hand is being sucked back into the mud by a green vine and another has given up just short of its goal, while a third hand is hauling itself up on the rope, one finger at a time. Eighth-grader Bryant Coleman says, “That one is like pulling yourself up. You’re always getting pulled down — you need to learn to pull yourself up.”


Escobar was brought in as the artist-in-residence to lead the project. To develop the mural idea, the students tapped their creativity through free-hand drawing and then, as a group, they came up with the final design. Hands eventually evolved into one of the main themes and symbols of the mural, drawing on the hand prints students painted in the hallways last summer and Escobar’s past work with the artistic shape and concept of hands.

“I enjoyed seeing the light bulb come on. At first they hit a wall, but once they take possession and it becomes their project it becomes easier to guide them in the right direction,” says Escobar.

The project took the students through the artistic process from brainstorming ideas through preliminary sketches to actually painting on the walls. Being active participants in the mural’s creation from start to finish, the students learned about the basic foundations of art.

Chris Jarrells, 14, says, “It’s a way to express yourself.”

“In a controlled way,” adds J.J. Janusz, 15.

Project stems from Kentucky Arts Council grant

The mural project stems from a Youth Center Initiated Project (YCIP) grant through the Kentucky Arts Council. This grant brings an artist into a day treatment center, alternative school or juvenile hall to work with students and staff on an arts project.

The combined efforts of Jane Dewey, director of arts education for Danville schools, Sharon Faul, director of the Beacon Youth Services Center, and Joey Kirk, director of the Bruce Hall Day Treatment Program secured the YCIP grant and made this project possible. In addition to bringing Escobar to work with the students, the grant also provides professional development to help Bruce Hall teachers integrate the arts into the classroom, as alternative schools don’t have specialized art teachers, says Dewey.

Recognizing the importance of art for at-risk kids, Danville and Boyle County Youth Services provided matching funds and supplies to fund the project. “I think it’s a way for them to express what they feel. They may not have the communication skills to say what they feel, so this gives them a way to express it,” says Faul.

Kirk adds, “The importance of doing things like this visually is that you have to be aware of what you’re thinking and feeling. You have to be aware there is a problem and then of the hope to rise up out of it. All this is about hope.”

The YCIP grant is particularly important because arts research has shown that students who don’t learn well in traditional ways can learn from the arts. According to Dewey, the mural project is a way to engage students in a new way “rather than re-engage them in ways that haven’t worked. ... This is a chance to put the spotlight on something they’re succeeding at.”

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