By Kristin Wissler
Boston, MA — On June 14, I stood among a group of people eagerly awaiting the reveal of a mural. “I Am/We Are” stood sandwiched between Fenway Park and Yawkey Station, covered by a blue tarp. The crowd buzzed with excitement. One artist, Mark Cooper, had already arrived, but the rest were still en route. When they finally arrived, it was a school bus that dropped off the young student artists from Gardner Pilot Academy, a school in Allston, Massachusetts.
The mural’s development was headed by the Art Resource Collaborative for Kids (ARCK), an organization dedicated to bringing art programs to Boston schools. ARCK had been working with Gardner Pilot Academy since 2012, when the first sixth-graders enrolled in the school.
Lauren Lafferty, director of extended services at the school, is the person who facilitates the partnership. ARCK’s mission is important to Lafferty, as Gardner Pilot Academy is, she told me, a full-service school. “We meet all the kids’ needs,” she explained, “Not just their academic needs, but their emotional and mental needs as well.” To her, the mural is a symbol of empowerment to the children. “It shows them that they can have an impact beyond the classroom,” she said.
Mark Cooper is the professional artist commissioned by ARCK to work on the mural with the kids after a year’s worth of fundraising. Cooper said the experience was an eye-opener to him, showing him how important it was for children to have access to art. He believes that art is not only beneficial for its own sake, but that “it helps with others subjects too, like math and science. Learning about the creative process helps the kids solve problems in all subjects, not just art.” He believes that the mural will pave the way for more art programs, giving more children the opportunity to explore art as the Gardner Pilot Academy students did.
Finally, it was time for the ceremony to begin. Sarah Demeter, ARCK’s executive director, gave the opening address. “This mural is an example of how we can build bridges between our youth and our community,” she said. Mayor Martin “Marty” J. Walsh also spoke, calling the mural “a great thing for Boston.” Then, Demeter led the crowd in a countdown from 10. As the crowd shouted “zero,” the tarp was pulled up, unveiling the mural.
It was well worth the wait. Comprised of numerous panels, the mural’s bight colors and simple designs give it an appropriately-childlike energy. The individual panels stand out as showcases for the students as individuals, yet melt together as one cohesive piece just as seamlessly. Helping this are the blue and yellow designs interspersed throughout the mural. Cooper explained that he painted these designs in order to tie the panels together.
The motifs were called many things by the crowd, including blue neurons, peacock feathers and a school of fish. Though I first believed that the designs look most like peacock feathers, I also liked the idea of the shapes representing a school of fish, swimming towards a brighter, more colorful future thanks to ARCK, Demeter and Cooper. As the students pointed out their work and grinned in amazement at seeing it on display, I decided that the blue shapes were a school of fish after all.
(For more information on the Art Resource Collaborative for Kids program, visit http://arckboston.org.)