Mural Project Displays Graffiti as Art, and Much More

Naomi Van der Land paints graffiti mural

By Montana Bass ’18

During the final weeks of Block 8, Naomi Van der Land ’17 and Alejandro Perez ’17 have been spending time at the Fine Arts Center. They’re working with five high school students and a local graffiti artist who goes by FUSE, collaborating on an art project that will soon be on display in the halls of Bemis School of Art.

It’s the extension of a long-time collaboration between Bemis and Colorado Springs School District 11’s program for at-risk high school students, students who have not succeeded in a traditional school environment. “This project gets them interested, gets them engaged,” says Tony Acosta, a special education teacher with District 11. “We’re able to get them out of their comfort zones, out of the classroom. It develops their coping skills.”

The impact for the high school participants goes far beyond developing their artistic talents. “I hope it involves all of the kids and that they feel like they’ve really accomplished something in creating a piece of art,” says Perez, a CC studio art major who had met FUSE a few years ago at a previous FAC exhibit opening. “It’s important to give younger kids different ways they can express themselves. It’s been super relaxed and positive.”

Social worker Devra Allen adds that it helps build confidence, “if they can venture into the unknown here as part of the art project, do something that makes them scared and succeed, it builds their confidence to think, ‘Yeah, I can do this.’ And for kids who have attendance issues in school, this gives them something to show up for and to be a part of.”

The team is spray-painting the mural onto a piece of wood salvaged from a former FAC theatre set. This means they’re working outside, in open air, and have been battling the elements of spring Colorado Springs weather in order to get the project done. Despite challenges, after just three painting sessions over the course of a few weeks, the students are nearly done with the project, which will be a mural with the word “BEMIS” in graffiti-style lettering. Each student submitted sketches of their personal ideas to FUSE, and the artist incorporated different elements into one plan.

High schooler Amy VonSeht says being part of the mural’s creation helped her embrace the unknown. “I’ve never done graffiti before; it’s a good experience. It’s something new to try. It’s very expressive,” she says, “I’ve done other classes and projects at Bemis, but this is the biggest.”

Some of the students feel hesitant to paint, nervous they’ll make a mistake. “I don’t want to mess it up. I’ve never done graffiti before, but I draw,” says Dominic Makinano, another high school participant. But the students are supportive, encouraging one another, “Just do it!” he adds as VonSeht considers picking up a paint can after Makinano is done with his portion, “I’m still afraid, but I just do it!”

FUSE does not just show the kids how to paint in the context of the project, he also teaches them about the history of graffiti as an art form, one he has been involved in for over 30 years. “I started when I was young, and I didn’t have a mentor then. The best way to learn is to get with someone who’s been doing it a long time,” he says. Now at the FAC, “Everyone gets painting time. I let them decide – with graffiti, the decision making is on the fly, it’s spontaneous.”

“It’s about giving them choices,” says Tara Thomas, executive director of education at the FAC. “Because of various issues, they don’t have a lot of choice. This gives them that freedom.”

The project provides students a freedom to express their own creativity in ways they may not otherwise have an opportunity, to thrive using art to build relationships and self-confidence.

The completed mural is scheduled to be unveiled Monday, May 22, and will remain on display in the Bemis School of Art stairway.

 

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