When I was a little girl my mom took me and my two sisters to a “Chalk-In” in Watts, California. It was summer and we got to draw pictures in chalk on the street with the other kids. There were many different ethnic backgrounds represented. We danced to the music, drew and ate all different kinds of food until it was almost dark. A few days later we heard about the Watts Riots. I was worried for my new friends. I had made a connection; not because I was told to be tolerant and accepting, but because I had met new kids and we had created something together.
I feel that just talking about acceptance and diversity isn’t enough. If we can get children from diverse backgrounds together for a common goal, such as creating a work of art, they can start to get to know one another. The total outcome of the mural is based on cooperation and the collaborative effort is what makes it so beautiful.
For each of these projects you will need paint (outdoor latex works great), brushes and supplies. If you can’t raise enough funds, try going to the local hardware store to ask for a donation. Type up a proposal with everything you will need and the reason you will be doing the painting.
General Supply List
Your needs will vary depending on your mural
-If you’re going to be painting people, make sure to mix up lot’s of different colors for skin tone, from light pink to almost black.
We did the “Imagine Peace” project at the Unity Center in San Diego, CA, just after the events of 911. I had been wondering how to help my daughter understand what had happened; something I couldn’t really even understand myself. I wanted her to know she could talk to me about it but she didn’t want to talk. It was too overwhelming and terrifying. Just after 911, people were attacking innocent people just because they were wearing turbans or scarves on their heads. It was just adding to the confusion and terror.
Instead of focusing on the fear and the terror, we had an opportunity to help focus on peace and understanding. Instead of just talking about acceptance and diversity, we could create a situation where we could meet children and parents of different faiths. Another mother (Shelley Rahim) and I put the project together.
We invited people of all different faiths (Jewish, Islamic, Catholic, Unity, Unitarian, Christian, Baha’i, Religious Science, Sikh, Zoroastrians, and others) to join together to paint their image of what peace looked like to them. We painted 10 canvases and everyone worked together to create the art. After we all finished and everyone wrote their name, faith and words of peace around the edge, each faith took a mural back to hang at their house of worship.
The day went very well and all the children and adults had a great time. We painted side-by-side and I heard some good conversations going on. It took about 5 hours for everyone to complete the painting and several more hours for Shelley and I to do touch up. Touch-up of spills and cleaning up edges made the murals really shine.
Plastic trash bags
Paper plates (for palettes)
Several big buckets for clean up
Xanadu came out of the book of the same name by Maya Ajmera and Olateju Omolodun with story by Dr. John Hope Franklin. I had seen the book with all the wonderful ideas and artwork and I knew I wanted my daughter’s class to give it a try. We ended up working with the whole 3rd grade class (about 130 students in all). There was no guide on how to do it at the time but they now have a wonderful, step-by-step book that explains just how to put it all together.
The kids got to come up with their idea of a perfect world, in other words, Xanadu. Our kids decided they wanted people of all races to get along. They would speak all different languages, but they would be able to understand one another. They had people of all colors living side-by-side. They created flying chairs for blind people and people in wheelchairs so they could go anywhere they wanted just by speaking into the controls. They also liked the idea of having animals, trees and flowers all over.
The mural hung in the school auditorium. On the first night the kids had a bake sale and charged parents $1.00 each to see it. They raised $200.00 that they decided (all on their own) to send to help find a cure for my daughter’s skin disease, vitiligo. If you do this project, your school could have an opening night and raise money for a local charity. Later the mural was put up at the San Diego Airport and then at The San Diego Children’s Hospital. It will now go to a nursing home.
The Xanadu mural was not painted, we used cut paper. It was then laminated and grommets were put at the corners for easy transport and installation. It took an hour a day, over a 6 day period, to cut out the pieces and one full school day for the students to glue all the pieces down to the large sheets of backing paper.
There are many different ways to bring children together. The subject of the mural doesn’t always have to be peace and acceptance. The undersea mural was painted by 130, 5th grade students. Each student painted one sea creature. We started with the ocean and sea floor already painted and then each student came in with a drawing of the fish they wanted to paint. It took one week, from 8:30 am until 3:30 pm, each day.
Barrio Logan Door Project
Mann Middle School Mural
This mural was done at Mann Middle School. There are 25 different languages spoken at the school. Some of the students are homeless, and there's a gang influence in the area. The principal and teachers wanted to bring the kids together with an art project. They all got to paint their own symbol, something that represented them, in one of the colored shapes. It wrapped around two stories and included art from over 350 students.
Get involved with your community. They had a fundraiser for the arts in Barrio Logan. Every artists got a door to paint and they had an auction to sell them. April and I worked on one door together. We decided to draw the crew around us. There were some great faces. April did 3 and I did 4. You probably can't even tell which ones April did and which ones I did. It was a great way to get to know some fellow artists and members of the community. The money raised from this project then funded art programs for the community.
From Birth to Death
This mural was created to show that even though we are all very different, we all do the same things. Sherman Elementary school has about 90% Hispanic students so it depicts a Hispanic view of these activities. If we can share more information about what we all have in common, we can understand each other better.
We started with “The Day You Were Born”, then “Vacations”, “First Day of School”, “Birthdays”, “Weddings”, and it ends with “Day of The Dead". 400 students helped to paint the mural. It took 5 full days to complete.
The mural is a good jumping off point to ask about other peoples ceremonies and traditions. We do all of these different things, but how do our families do things differently? How are they the same? How do we celebrate birthdays? Consider the other important events in our lives and compare them with other religions or nationalities.
Mann Middle School Project
This pique assiette* project was done with students from Horace Mann Middle School. There are 25 different languages spoken at the school. Some of the kids are homeless, and there's a gang influence in the area. The principal and teachers wanted to bring the kids together with an art project. Since the students were from all over the world, I decided to use a map of the world as the base. All 350 students participated. They all brought in objects to add to the project, with everything from bottle caps and buttons to small plastic toys. If they didn't have anything, we supplied different colored objects. They were so proud of what they had done, they would bring friends by after school to show them which items they had used.
*A fancy name for mosaic using pushed-in objects.
I taught a class for the LINK program. LINK is an AIGA San Diego program that connects teens in need with artists and creative professionals. It's a great program with so many talented kids. We did collage and mixed media and the subject was Love. The lights went out on half the room because of the hair dryers but the kids just kept working in the dark. They had fun and created some beautiful pieces.