The Colorado High School Charter (CHSC) EntrepreMuralist program, in partnership with Arts Street@YEA, designed and executed a large-scale mural project at New Freedom Park in Denver. Students worked directly with The Trust for Public Lands (TPL) as the key community partner. CHSC youth designed the mural concept and worked with other CHSC students and staff, and community members who volunteered to paint the mural on two mural painting days in May. Students, enrolled in the mural painting class, learned about the park and the residents who frequent it, and learned about future park improvements working with a representative of TPL. As New Freedom Park is in an area of Denver that is home to many new immigrants and refugees, the students were given the opportunity to meet with residents who attended a community meeting to share cultural information about their countries-of-origin. In class, students shared things about their own family’s traditions and objects that were significant to them, as well as researched the variety of the countries represented by the residents near the park. Through research and discussion, the design proposal included a concept for the mural that would include images of animals and plants from a variety of countries. The images were included in a series of designs inspired by mandalas, which have universal symbolic meanings of wholeness, timelessness and cyclic movement. As the mural was a series of three concrete low walls, a part of the concept was to encourage interaction by painting them in a series of blocks and stripes that would introduce much-needed color into the park. In addition to being the design team for the project, the mural class students, as well as CHSC staff and the general student body, were invited to participate in a community paint day that allowed the students to take an active role in leading members of the community in the painting of the walls.
Throughout the research, design process, and organizing the community paint days, students gained real-world experience by creating design solutions, managing their workflow, meeting deadlines and learning how to work for a client. When students worked with the community, it was obvious that their creative skills had a direct effect on improving the neighborhood and that the residents were appreciative of their work.
Another important component of the mural class was to explain the project to the entire student body and to recruit both staff and students to participate in community paint days. Students went from class to class, presented the project and encouraged their classmates and teachers to sign up to help. They also created a visual presentation of the completed project to showcase their process, creative skills, teamwork, and civic engagement.