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Community building: Student-made mural celebrates art and diversity

Celina Colby | 6/23/2016, 6 a.m.
“I Am, We Are” is a physical reminder of the impact communities have on students. It also allows young people ...
Students from the Gardner Pilot Academy worked with Arts Resource Collaborative for Kids on this mural near Fenway Park. Photo: Celina Colby

On Tuesday, June 14, Mayor Walsh formally unveiled “I Am, We Are,” a mural created by students from Gardner Pilot Academy in partnership with Arts Resource Collaborative for Kids (ARCK). Situated across from Fenway Park, the mural is expected to reach over three million passersby this year, estimates Sara Mraish Demeter, founder and executive director of ARCK.

“The ‘I Am, We Are’ mural project is an example of how we build bridges between our youth and the community to enrich the city,” she said during the ceremony.

The mural is a mix of abstract and figurative forms. Identifiable objects pulled from the students’ lives such as soccer balls, faces and animals, are painted on expansive plains of color and texture. Words are sprinkled throughout the work, all with empowerment in mind. “Strong,” “beautiful” and “I am a winner” serve as reminders to the artists that both they and the work they create are important.

“I Am, We Are,” isn’t just about boosting self-esteem. Demeter designed the mural with her students specifically to celebrate their diverse cultural heritage. Racial inclusion is one of ARCK’s biggest goals.

“We use art to empower our students to be global citizens,” says Demeter. “If you engage them early on in creative learning, they will become strong future leaders.”

Artist Mark Cooper, known for his abstract painting and sculpture, came in to help the students create the work. Collaborating with a working creator who has made a career out of his artistic passions shows students that there are plausible paths for them in the art world.

Integrated approach

Launched in 2011, ARCK works in underserved schools to provide arts education and creative thinking where it’s not currently funded. Their work goes beyond scented markers and watercolor paints. Demeter says they make lesson plans to incorporate science, design and entrepreneurship. At the Blackstone Innovation School in the South End, an MIT architect visited over a series of weeks to help the students with a design project. Teachers reported that not only did the program engage students in creative problem solving; it honed their ability to positively interact with adults.

In a world where technology and algorithms run everything we do, it’s refreshing to see an organization that shows students how valuable the arts still are. “I Am, We Are” is a physical reminder of the impact communities have on students. It also allows young people in underprivileged areas to represent their neighborhoods and cultures in a positive way. Moments before revealing the mural, Walsh addressed the crowd of middle school artists around him.

“This mural brings out the creativity of our young people and shows the strength of the diversity in the city of Boston,” he said, “We’re very proud of it.”

The mural is on view at 51 Brookline Avenue in between the Yawkey commuter rail station and Fenway Park.