Thursday, November 20, 2008

Bringing the arts to school halls, city walls - Gazette

by Jeremy Arias | Staff Writer | Wednesday, Nov. 19, 2008

Planned and completed mural projects brighten several buildings in Silver Spring, Takoma Park

When Oak View Elementary School fifth-grader Dio Cramer returned to school this fall, she and her classmates were quick to notice Principal Peggy Salazar's new addition: a bright-colored glass mural framed over the school's entrance hall.

The work, completed by high school students working with professional artists from the Arts on the Block program of Wheaton, features a network of green and blue speckled lines weaving across a backdrop of orange and yellow circles and blue-to-white background, an intricate design that students seemed to enjoy trying to describe.

"I think it's like paths through water," Cramer said. "And I think it symbolizes finding your way through life."

Her classmates, Dennis Buruca-Ramos and Emerson Adams-Jackson, said they thought the design represented the tails of dragons, the school's mascot, while others, like Dianne Caceres, simply appreciated the mural for its aesthetic value.

"It's very beautiful," she said, pointing out the bright oranges and yellows of the work. "I feel happy when I see it."

Oak View's mural is the latest in a series of art projects planned for locations in Silver Spring and Takoma Park. A full-building mural is being funded by the Takoma Foundation for a house on Carroll Avenue, while the city's own Community Center may soon be decorated by Silver Spring-based Arturo Ho through Art for the People, a nonprofit dedicated to fostering creativity in communities that don't have much access to the arts.

Jan Goldstein, director of Arts on the Block, a program that engages high school students in the world of professional art by assigning them projects and paying them for designs and work, said the program often benefits students as much as clients. The Oak View mural, designed by Angel Smith last summer, cost about $5,000, she said.

"We believe that there are a lot of creative kids out there who never really get the chance to leverage their creative skills and we give them that chance," she said. "Everybody wins. [Oak View Principal Peggy] Salazar gets this great mosaic, our kids get to see how the process works."

Goldstein's role with students often puts her in touch with other area artists. Washington D.C.-based artist G. Byron Peck directed 25 students in the Silver Pass mural project on Georgia Avenue, which was displayed last summer. Four new panels are being constructed, while Peck himself plans his next move, a Trompe-l'™il mural at 7056 Carroll Ave.

"It's a classical architectural and illusionistic painting style with a high degree of illusionism," Peck said of the Carroll Avenue mural. He plans to paint a front porch scene with the illusion of depth on the flat wall of the building.

Peck, whose work graces several buildings in the District and Silver Spring, said he hopes the mural will not only beautify the Takoma Park community, but also serve as a crime deterrent.

"It really does a lot to help people be aware of what's going on," he said. "A lot of public arts projects have the dual purpose of making people aware of the environment. [Plus] anything that can jazz up the neighborhood, I'm all for it."

The foundation is looking to raise an additional $13,000 toward the $26,000 Peck needs to begin the mural. They hope to secure funds and begin painting this summer.

While Peck and the sponsoring Takoma Foundation have already released a concept design for the Carroll Avenue project, the foundation and the Art for the People group are looking for community input for a planned mosaic project to decorate the Community Center at 7500 Maple Ave.

About $40,000 will be donated toward the project, half by the city and half from fundraising by the foundations. So far two meetings have been held in the center to introduce Ho, the project's artistic director, and generate ideas for where the mosaic will go and what it will look like.

"I want the community to have the major say - where it's going, what they'd like to see," Ho said during the second meeting Thursday. "It's not just one group of people making decisions."

Community members are encouraged to write to the foundation with ideas, fill out surveys or even submit drawings of what they want to see. Suggestions can be sent by e-mail to the foundation or by dropping letters into a box that will be at the Community Center information desk until January, according to Alice Sims, president of Art for the People.

The groups will begin holding workshops in December to teach volunteers the process of cutting glass and making mosaics. American Visionary Arts Museum representatives Joe Wall and Bonnie Bonnell, who are advising the project, showed a film of Baltimore at-risk youth assembling the museum's own mosaic in Baltimore at the meeting Thursday. Wall praised the Takoma Park project.

"This really is a powerful project," he said. "I mean, at some point it's just gluing some blue stuff to a wall … but it really means something to the people who get involved."

Ideas for the mural will be accepted through January, when Ho will begin designing his own vision of the work, which will be compiled from community input. Sims and Stepp hope to begin gluing the mosaic together by March of 2009.

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