Community Mural

Community Mural Project
August 6-10, 2012
 Kelly Finlaw

Completed Community Mural

Project overview 

The area just outside of the community center/church was an empty lot used by neighbors to dump their trash.  Despite the posted sign just above the dump (see below), the area had become a space for garbage from residents and passersby. 

Dumping site in the community
Community members pitched in to clean the site

We began our mural project with a small group of 10-17 year old students.  The group grew in size as the week progressed.  Some students were a part of the process from start to finish while others; started with us but did not finish, ended with us but did not start, or came for various days in-between.  The openness of the project allowed for sporadic attendance.  This was not an issue during the completion of the project, but does alter the assessment data of the students involved.

Students helped to prepare the wall for painting scraping off old paint

The students were asked to draw images of their idea of the ideal community, "The world as it should be."  These images were then combined in a design by the Teaching Artist, Kelly Finlaw.   Then, using a grid, the students sketched the drawing on the wall that was primed the day before.


On average, the mural class had ten students in attendance.  However, only four students were consistently in attendance for every class.  Most students attended for 2-3 days of the camp.  Some students attended for only one day of the week. 

Students learned to mix paint and everyone painted the wall


1.  On the first day of camp the students drew the realities of their world.  They were assigned to draw their neighborhoods as they see them, for good and for bad.  Every student drew a world that showed evidence of broken fences, trash, dirt, and graffiti.

2.  Each student was shown a paper with three separate faces.  One face portrayed unhappiness, one portrayed a neutral emotion, and one portrayed a happiness.  The students were asked to identify which emotion best described their interest in learning.  Two students identified with the unhappy face.  Four students identified with the neutral face.  Two students identified with the happy face.


1.  Students were assessed again on the final day of class.  They were asked to envision their future and their place in it.  Every student had a vision of a productive role within their society.  Four students envisioned being musicians or artists.  Two students wanted to be teachers.  One student wanted to be an astronaut.  Five students wanted to be professional soccer players.

2.  Students were assessed again on the final day of class. Each student was shown a paper with three separate faces.  One face portrayed unhappiness, one portrayed a neutral emotion, and one portrayed a happiness.  The students were asked to identify which emotion best described their interest in learning.  No student chose unhappiness.  Four students chose neutral and four students chose happiness.

Interest in new subjects

On the final day of class each student was asked if they had a subject that they were interested in learning more about.  Every single student named a subject that they would like to learn more about.

The resulting mural and area was clean


We ended our week long art camp in Bogota today. We celebrated our projects with the community. We shared our work. We sang and laughed and danced.

My class painted a mural in a lot that had been used for trash. It was a reclaiming of space. It was transformational.

My kids stood in front of their neighbors, tall and proud, to share their dream world, the subject of the mural, with their real world.

I stood back and watched through tear-filled eyes as they explained the process and told what they learned.

Adults from the community came to the stage, in an impromptu mic share, to express their gratitude for the newly renovated space.

We took a group photo.

It was a monumental day. I will never forget it.

All week long, though, nothing that we were doing felt significant. We drew pictures of our worlds as they are and then of our dream worlds. We picked up trash. We scraped chipping paint off of a dirty wall. We sanded it. We primed it. We drew on it. We painted it.

None of those tasks felt deserving of recognition. None of them felt noteworthy.  I wondered if I had wasted my time, wasted the kids' time. I wondered if they would have rather been riding bikes or playing video games.

I wondered if the finished project would mean anything to anyone but me.

All of those not-noteworthy tasks ended up being noteworthy.

All of the pieces came together to make a new picture. I couldn't see it in the moment. I could only see the pieces.

I do that sometimes. I get lost in the middle.

I forget that the details matter, the days in January when it's difficult to get out of bed. Those days are actually the substance of the school year. They are what we stand on when we get to the days in June.

I forget that the middle is the rich part, the part that holds the flavor.

They matter. They mean something.

They make it possible to have the final projects that are so easy to recognize as mattering.

Today, my kids were proud of their work, the community was proud of their work, and I was proud of them.

We marveled at the finished piece. And I remembered that it was merely a compilation of tiny little pieces that don't always make sense in the moment. I remembered the value of the moments we are constantly collecting as we move into the future.

I remembered the need to be fully present in every situation, to live in the now.

I remembered to not get lost.

We took a picture. Maybe I can look at it in January and remember again.

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