Tuesday, August 31, 2010

To mural or not to mural, that is the question...

It was our first staff meeting of the year today. Our principal got smart and took us to meet in a room outside of the school so we could not sneak off to work in our classrooms. We had a nice lady come facilitate a "vision planing" session where we decided on our core values as a school, our vision for the school in three years and some projects we can work on during this school year.

Four times during the day people wrote down they wanted murals on or around the school. The brainstorming was done in groups so I never saw who wrote down they wanted a mural. At the very end of the day on the paper that listed things we really, really wanted to get done this year "mural" was listed.

I've done small and large scale murals before, in fact my undergrad honors thesis was on the use of murals in different social groups/social institutions. So I'm pretty knowledgeable about what goes into making a mural and the time and $$$ investment. A real, nice looking, long term mural is a serious project.

At the end of the training I raised my hand and told the 60+ people present that I would be happy to work on a mural project this year but it was not something I could do alone, I would need help from other adults. I asked who would help me with the mural or was really excited about it.

NO ONE raised their hand.

The facilitator scanned the room and ask me if I was the one who repeatedly listed painting a mural. I told her it was not me. She looked at the room again and said, "well who wrote it down, is anyone willing to help with the project?" Then three teachers bust out giggling and all at the same time sing song-ed "We'll help you Suzanne!" and dissolved into snickers. My response was a stupefied "um ok...we can talk more later."

I am totally baffled by their response. Was the mural idea a joke? Do they want one? Were they making fun of me? I don't really get it. All I know is I'm not going to take on a large mural project without the backing of the other teachers and staff. The whole exchange left me confused and a bit paranoid I guess.


  1. I've done murals too, but during the summer w/ preteens and teens, and another art teacher for two weeks, so i understand the time and resources required. I've also painted murals in private homes. I've had good/bad experiences doing both. I think murals create a wonderful atmosphere in any school or home.

    HOWEVER, I don't believe for a moment that just because you are the art teacher that you should be forced into taking on such a momentous project (not to mention daily teaching requirements). It sounds like you work with some really unprofessional women. Don't let them bully you into doing this on your own!! And don't do it at all if you end up working with someone who makes the whole mural a miserable experience.

    Is there any way you could create a mural that is a student project or a summer school project funded through a grant? Could you create the design and have students paint it like a giant coloring book? What age students do you work with? Just some thoughts...

    Hopefully you'll have a mature adult step forward and help you out. Good luck!

  2. Oh, and if I lived in your neck of the woods I would definitely volunteer...I love to do murals!!

  3. OOH this story makes me angry (but not at you)! People forget that art teachers actually TEACH! And that a mural project takes time beyond the school day and appropriate resources too. Obviously, without knowing the people, I can't guess the motive of these women, but don't let it make you second-guess yourself and your expertise.

    I think that you should be clear to these ladies: you'd be happy to do a mural project with support, you have the expertise, BUT.... since it was THEIR idea and not yours, THEY should develop a plan for what kind of mural it should be, THEY should hunt down the financing and get the appropriate permissions etc, and that YOU would direct the actual creation of the art. If they are not willing to take the initiative on this project, their 'help' will likely be only rudimentary and not nearly what you need.

    One other thought - I find my parent group in my school loves to get involved in projects like this - so if you decide to go ahead with something, enlist their help and thank them very publicly.

    OOH another thought - were there administrators in attendance? I'd seek them out and ask what they thought was intended by the gaggle of gigglers and their response. But mostly, don't get talked into anything. Don't take on a big project unless it is something you truly want to do. Good luck!

  4. This story sounds so familiar. This happens to me all the time. I am constantly frustrated with people who are always suggesting big artistic projects and expect the art teacher to do it all. This happens to me all the time. Right now my school wants me to do a huge mosaic tile mural, which was not my idea and will take a lot of time and money.

    I completely understand your worries.

  5. In case it helps, here is my final post about the mural project I did with my students last year. Good luck!

  6. weird! I wonder what they were all giggling about. Do you feel comfortable enough with them to ask them? I totally understand you not wanting to get shouldered with all the work!

  7. That really was a weird experience I bet. You don't know if they did it as a joke thinking art teachers don't "really" work, or just thought they would throw out an idea not ever thinking you would ask for help. Do they want you to do it and they take the credit for coming up with the suggestion? If I were your administrator I'd have them work with you in the planning and execution. If they thought it was funny, they won't after they find out how many hours art teachers put in doing things like this, props for plays, art displays for their school system.... I could go on. Good luck with it, but I would seek some answers if I were you.

  8. Dood. This makes me want to take of my heels and beat someone! (Not you!!). Whenever we have planning like that about "school improvement" at my school a mural ALWAYS comes up. I've done SOO many permanent installations at my private school over the years that are huge. . .FOR FREE. It has taken a lot of my time and effort and I work as a freelance illustrator too, so I get a little attitudinal about giving away my work. . .So, as such, I get majorly aggravated when we have these meetings about "improving the school," and everyone suggests something that they don't understand, know little to nothing about, and are eager for someone else to do. I actually freaked out on a teacher in the middle of a meeting about it last year. I, uh, think I actually said something -in front of all teachers and admin- about how great it was to consistently come up with ideas about school improvement that only I was able to execute. I think the tirade also included something about there not being any "magic art wands." Ummm, I'm a hot tempered southern belle like that.

    ANYWAY, what I did do this year was sponsor an art club. Our art club's purpose is to use art for social justice. We have decided to work with an orphanage in Kenya and raise money for something their students decide they want (most likely bikes). And, my students came up with an awesome idea: a mural. But, here is the cool thing. I have 15 super talented, devoted artists who want to work alongside me, in a teachery capacity to create this mural. And, that makes a huge difference. We are going to raffle off "portraits" in the mural to raise $$ for the bikes. We will feature several student portraits in the mural etc. etc.

    Anyway, I feel for you, and I just wanted to empathize. . . And I would love to lay the smack down on those "We'll help you!" sing-song snarky voices.