School unveils Cultural Diversity Mural

Nearly 200 students collaborate on 216-foot art project

Posted: Thursday, May 25, 2006

Auke Bay Elementary School has painted a clearer picture of its cultural diversity.

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About 200 students contributed to a 216-foot Cultural Diversity Mural that has been affixed to the outside of the school on the second level, above its entrance. The brightly colored, weather-proofed plywood mural consists of nearly 250 individual paintings that represent more than 60 cultures.

"It really drives home that we all have a culture," Principal Dave Newton said. "It's important not only to appreciate the cultures of others, but also to appreciate one's own culture."

The mural was created through the Juneau School District's Artists in Schools Program. Rob Logan, a painter and printmaker from Harpswell, Maine, spent several weeks working with students in first through fourth grades on creating an image that represents some portion of their heritage.

"He's just so fabulous with the kids," said Nancy Lehnhart, an art specialist for the district and mother of a fifth-grader at Auke Bay. "He has so much energy and charisma. He does this kind of art that is really kid-friendly."

The mural adds some new character to the faade of the school, with bright colored shamrocks and Tlingit designs to symbols of Russian and even Ethiopian cultures.

"When you just walk up, it's a complete transformation," Lehnhart said. "It's so bright and you really recognize it as a kid's space because it's kids' artwork."

Brenda Taylor, a parent volunteer who helped spearhead the project, said it has inspired the students to become more curious about their classmates cultures, as well as their own.

"They're taking pride in themselves and they're also curious about the rest of the school, and I don't think that's an opportunity they get very often," she said.

Taylor said she also saw a number of students take a noticeable interest in the artistic process through the project. She said she hopes the students have learned that everyone is a capable artist.

"It's another skill, in the same way that reading and writing is, that it can be taught," Taylor said. "It's not this sort of magical, 'Oh, some people have this talent and some people don't.'"

Brita Fagerstrom, a 9-year-old third-grader, said she enjoyed learning about her Swedish heritage and learning to paint "like an expert."

"I learned you can do a lot of things if you just put your mind to it," she said.

Taylor said the school intends to keep the mural up for about a decade or so. She said the students are excited about the possibility of the mural being up when they are in high school.

"They did something that will be up for 10 years," Taylor said. "They're not used to thinking that long, and not used to thinking about something that people will see for so long."

Fagerstrom said she is excited at the possibility of other kids attending Auke Bay Elementary School in the future who see her part of the mural.

"I always thought it was very cool to be a part of the school," she said. "So when you come and walk in the school, like when I'm all grown up, I can remember how I was a part of this school."

Toby Lyons, a 9-year-old third-grader, said he was amazed that his fellow students encompass more than 60 cultures.

"I learned there are a lot of different cultures - a lot more than I expected," he said.

Lyons painted a menorah to represent his Jewish roots.

Shawna Puustinen, a teacher of a first- and second-grade split-class, said it was nice to see the students, parents and teachers working together on a project with the important message of tolerance.

"It came all together so that not one class was displayed or not one kid was recognized, but the whole entire student body was recognized in some way and they took away a lot of pride in that," she said.



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