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Outdoor area gets a creative touch when youths take up paint brushes and add some color

When St. Paul Parochial School added storage space to its outdoor play area over the summer, it created a new wall in the process.

But simply painted white, the wall did not quite match the exuberant and whimsical atmosphere that students typically create when using the facility to run, play and burn off extra energy that has accumulated during the day. SETH GORDON - Students paint a mural in the outdoor play area at St. Paul Parochial School. The project was part of the Art Smarts program, which provides monthly arts curriculum through parent volunteers.

Luckily for principal Amanda Davidson, parent volunteers Allison Connor and L'Mara Zielinski saw it more as a canvas than a wall and seized the opportunity to have students decorate it as part of the Art Smarts program they help run at the school.

So the pair arranged for every student in grades K-8 to help paint a mural Sept. 25 and Davidson couldn't be happier with the result.

"I think it's a huge success," Davidson said. "I think the kids got to use their own creativity and make something beautiful that will be enjoyed for years to come."

The Art Smarts program provides an adjunct art curriculum, with parent volunteers visiting the school about once a month to teach each grade level a bit of art history. Lessons typically focus on one particular artist and students then create their own pieces in that style.

Most years, the program invites a visiting artist to lead students in creating a permanent art fixture at the school.

"It's a great program," Davidson said. "We have a few projects in our main entry. One year they did self-portraits out of clay and those are hanging as you walk into the school and we have a mosaic piece also that shows the St. Paul community."

The mural will be this year's major project and was based on New York City street artist Keith Haring's work, using simple human shapes and lots of bright color.

"We did a lesson last year on Keith Haring, but we did it on a very small scale, on a piece of tag board," Connor said. "So for the students who had Art Smarts last year we referenced that. It's fun and playful and kind of simple."

Students participated in various ways depending on their age and skill level, with the youngest students beginning the process by painting grass, flowers, bees and their favorite sports equipment, like basketballs and footballs.

"With the middle students, we did sketch out a few of the figures and they did a lovely job of picking colors and painting them in," Connor said. "The older groups had the freedom to draw their own and choose their own pose. We gave them more artistic liberty, which is always good. We tried to give every student input and put their own creative twist on everything. I think the end product was fun and lively and it will be a fun space for them to play in and feel like they had some ownership in the mural."

At the center of the mural is a tree, to which each student added their own hand prints to represent the leaves.

"They were very enthused about that," Connor said. "They each did two handprints, so I'm hoping they can go back and look at it and say, 'That's mine!'"

Next up for students will be a lesson on Mexican tin art that will begin toward the end of the month.

The school also renovated its bathrooms over the summer for the first time since the building was first constructed and the Art Smarts program will also lead students in creating some of the decorations for that new space.

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