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Giving art to a community: Elementary, college students collaborate to create a mural for the Webster Family Resource Center

By Sarah Kucharski • Staff Writer

A warm mid-morning sun beats down on the back parking lot of the Family Resource Center in Webster where cups of color and paintbrushes await hands eager to put the finishing touches on a small mural that now graces a concrete, stairway wall.

The mural’s brightness makes it hard to miss. Red birds fly across purple mountains and polka dot butterflies hover under a green tree next to a blue stream. It’s like a child’s drawing from the refrigerator gallery has come to life.

The mural will welcome many to the center, including the entirety of the Webster voting precinct. The stairway is where voters line up to cast ballots in Jackson County elections — a little fact that Brennan Burke, 9, and Natalie Steinbicker, 8, didn’t know but thought is cool when they found out.

Burke, a student a Grace Christian Academy, and Steinbicker, a student at Fairview Elementary, are the only two students in this session of a new summer art camp organized by Western Carolina University’s Division of Educational Outreach. The camp began as an extension of after-school art classes for kids that WCU students taught this past year.

WCU master’s of art teaching students Leslie Rosenberg and Cara Lovejoy led the camps and are optimistic about two similar upcoming camps — a second “Community Mural Camp,” (Aug. 14-18) that will meet at Cullowhee Valley School to decorate a wall in the cafeteria and “My Buddy and Me” (Aug. 8-9) which involves students and an adult creating artwork in the style of a famous artist.

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“Doing community art, that’s something I really like to do,” Rosenberg said.

Based on the enthusiasm for their own mural project, rustling up a few more kids eager to create some art over the summer shouldn’t be too hard.

“I love art,” Burke said, munching on a break time snack. “I like painting. It’s fun, bright colors. I like pink and baby blue. And aqua, I like aqua.”

“I like turquoise,” Steinbicker said.

The mural is based on Burke’s drawing of a mountain scene. To create the mural, the group painted the wall white, and Lovejoy sketched a copy of Burke’s drawing on the wall with charcoal.

“They’re adding details themselves,” Rosenberg said.

The mushrooms and waterfalls and “critters,” as Burke calls them, give the mural not just color, but character.

Leading students to create a mural involves a collection of Rosenberg’s and Lovejoy’s lessons in art, art teaching, art history and the education classes relating to lesson planning and working with special needs students. The two have worked in local schools and are preparing for their final internships.

While Rosenberg and Lovejoy help teach students about art, they’re also learning about what it takes to be a teacher.

“It’s a big commitment,” Lovejoy said.

Working with such a diverse group of personalities day in and day out, and trying to balance art — a medium of free expression — with the bureaucracy and budget cuts of traditional school systems grows harder with more emphasis on test scores and less value placed on the arts.

“It’s put on the back burner,” Lovejoy said.

However, the arts should not be disregarded, Lovejoy said, adding how they can teach students about themselves as individuals from encouraging self-esteem to developing critical thinking skills.

“You really learn so much about yourself through art,” Lovejoy said.

And if those lessons are not immediately clear, at least others are.

“I learned how to do a mural,” Burke said. Pausing, she added, “I learned what a mural is.”

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