Wednesday, December 29, 2010

crushing the dreams of college students

(random kids happily painting away in Texas, not one of my murals)

I am a mural hater. I am the Grinch of murals. I have a, "Just say no!" policy on murals. And I have earned that right. Over the years I have had a hand in 9 murals and overseen several of those as the person in charge. My senior honors thesis was a 100+ page tome on the history of murals in the US as a method of beautification, representation and socialization.

I've studied murals from the East to the West coast and everywhere in between. I've read every book I could find on murals, talked to a ton of people where involved in making murals and organized and carried out mural projects at two schools. And do you know what I learned after all of that? Murals (and honors theses) are awesome, and something to be really proud of, but they are a hell of a lot more WORK than you expect.

(Now comes the part where I am going to crush the dreams of college students)

Each year, like clockwork, in October, come one or two college students wanting to do a mural project at the school. Sometimes they are art students, sometimes undergrads needing service hours, sometimes starving artists who want to build up their resume.

I appalled the good intentions of all of these nice girls (always girls). And each year I listen politely, nodding my head as they explain their vision...(please see girl in her early 20's wearing skinny black jeans, converse, a Indy band tee shirt, her boyfriends zip up hoodie, a scarf wrapped around her neck and a haircut reminiscent of the band Flock of Seagulls....can you picture her...ok) "Soooo, I was thinking something about the community and um everyone coming together, and collage and dreams and lots of colors and like a quote from someone inspiring, maybe Chavez or Dr. King or something."

I ask her to sit down and go through my crush list (the list that crushes your dreams)
1. When would you like to do this project? ("um well, I need to have my hours for this class done by the end of like in the next week or so?") next week! it rains almost every day here between October and mid May.
2. Do you have a budget to do this project ("no...maybe I can get some paint donated?") make that a LOT of paint!
3. What age of our students you want to work on the mural ("EVERYBODY!") Chaos!
4. Do you have anyone to help you? ("You") Who me!? I'm kind of busy teaching during the day
5. Have you done a mural before? ("no, but my high school art teacher said I had potential and I draw the cover art for my boyfriend's band's cds!) Oh lord...
6. What kind of image/size where you thinking of ? ("well like I said something about the community...something BIG)
7. What do you picture when you think of our you live in the neighborhood? (girl looks a bit taken aback, "no, I don't live in this neighborhood. Um well I know it's like really diverse(whispers and uses finger quotes)and I thought it would be such a nice way for the kids to make their school AMAZING and they would be so proud and everyone could come together and paint it! ) Oh dear someone has been watching "School Pride" on ABC

At this point I have to tell her that we are not allowed to put permanent murals on the inside walls of the school. Also it is really really hard to paint a mural in the rain, so outdoor will have to wait till the late spring. And she needs to apply to the district and possibly the city of Portland for a permit to have a mural on a outside wall. (all murals larger than 5x6 feet in PDX fall under signage and advertising code and need a special permit that costs about $150, UNLESS you apply to the city's Regional Arts Council board and receive one of the 5(?) grants they give per year to professional artist working on large public murals.
Also I have no budget to give to the mural and neither does the school, nor any appropriate paint. I also can not help her during the day because I teach 8 classes a day and you can't take 29 kids out to paint a mural for only 15 min at a time. I also can NOT send kids out alone with her because she is not a certified teacher or teachers aid unless I get her background checked by the district and find an aid to be out there with her...oh wait, they fired all our aids due to budget cuts a few years back. Also no putting kids on ladders, scaffolding or chairs.

Sooo....basically your only options are a non permanent mural indoors (on plywood or canvas) (once again I can not provided the materials and supplies for you) Or you can wait till the spring and do a small under 5x6 foot mural outside if the principal and district facilities give you permission. In either case the project will have to be done as an after-school project through the after school program.

Smile is gone, eyes are either a bit sad or mad...yes my friends that is how you crush the dreams of a nice collage student. Twice I have received a whinny..."But I need to fill my service hours by the end of the semester!" "You are more then welcome to come volunteer in my classroom doing art with the kids! " I always offer. Never a taker. They leave and I never hear from them again.

Until this year. I have a stubborn girl this year (and I like her for that) she has already worked it out with the after school program that she will do her mural post school hours. She has two friends who are going to help her. She has gotten the after school program to promise $100 for supplies and is ready to hit up home deopt for more. I think she may have it in her BUT she refuses to do an indoor temp mural or anything under 5x6ft. She wants it LARGE and she wants it outside. She and I have been going in circles for three months now and she won't accept anything but outside. I've told her who to contact in the district to see if she can apply for an outside permit, but I'm not holding my breath and I think she is missing for the forest for the trees by insisting that it either be outside and big or on a WALL inside.

I've done my job trying to crush her and now it is the turn of the school district and the city... they are good at that stuff


  1. Hey, as long as it's through the after school program, you're off the hook, right? I just LOVE it when people come up to me and say they have a BRILLIANT idea, but what it really means is that it will be ME doing all the work!

  2. You mean college students not collage, right? Confusing.

  3. Yes I get asked to paint at least three murals a year too! It has become an inside joke between me and one of my colleagues. She is the gym teacher and thinks it's so funny how everyones great idea is to have me paint them a mural. Good to have someone to laugh with! Not to put down their idea for a large permanent painting of a district initiative that will only last 8 months:)

  4. i'm curious to know whether the mural ever came to fruition or not - update please :)

  5. Oh the mural was never done. The girl in the story stopped volunteering about three weeks later because she got a job somewhere doing after school classes.