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Creating collaborative art

Courtney Marek, Sarah Brokke Erickson, Bailey Barber and Alyssa Johnson pull the large parachute to unveil the new collaborative mural created by St. Scholastica and Laura MacArthur Elementary school students. The mural will be permanently installed just inside the front doors of the school. (Photo by Teri Cadeau)1 / 5
Students at Laura MacArthur Elementary School check out the new mural created in collaboration with St. Scholastica students and staff members. Assistant art professor Sarah Brokke Erickson said the mural is designed to have many layers so that students can see something new in the painting every year they attend school. (Photo by Teri Cadeau)2 / 5
St. Scholastica assistant art professor Sarah Brokke Erickson talks about the mural process and introduces her team leads for this project. From left to right: students Courtney Marek, Bailey Barber, Alyssa Johnson and art professor Paul LaJeunesse. (Photo by Teri Cadeau)3 / 5
Parents, teachers, friends and local artists applaud as the new Laura MacArthur mural is unveiled. (Photo by Teri Cadeau)4 / 5
This new mural will be permanently installed just inside the front doors of the school. After the mural was unveiled on May 23, students signed the back of it. (Photo by Teri Cadeau)5 / 5

Assistant art professor Sarah Brokke Erickson had two goals this spring. Recently installed as the director of the Art Department at the College of St. Scholastica, she wanted to focus the department on the Benedictine values of the school, particularly community. She also wanted to spruce up the walls of the new Laura MacArthur Elementary School building where her two children attended.

"I thought maybe, just maybe, there's potential for a collaborative project that benefits everybody here. I could get my students off campus, interacting with the community. And we could do something nice for the students of Laura MacArthur and teach them the importance of art," Brokke Erickson said. "It's a win-win."

Students from The College of St. Scholastica teamed up with elementary schoolers to create a mural that was unveiled last week during a ceremony in the elementary school gym.

The mural is the first piece in the St. Scholastica Art Department's Mural Initiative Project. Over the course of the spring semester, Brokke Erickson's students brainstormed, designed and implemented the mural in partnership with students at Laura MacArthur. The mural focuses on the students' identity, sense of place and a celebration of "Peacemakers" as defined by Martin Luther King, Jr.

"A peacemaker is someone who has sought to teach, to transform, to make friends, to heal, to defeat injustice, or to choose love instead of hate." This quote is included in the mural along with the school motto: Focused, Appropriate, Cooperative.

Over 230 students, elementary and college, worked on the mural. To distribute the load of responsibility, Brokke Erickson assigned three graduating art students to be project leads: Courtney Marek, Alyssa Johnson and Bailey Barber.

"Because it's such a small program, we really get to be one-on-one with our professors. So Sarah got to know us pretty well over the years and she thought we'd be good leaders throughout this process and reached out to us. We thought it was great so we jumped right in," Johnson said.

The students learned and taught new painting techniques to the K.E.Y. Zone (Knowledge, Enrichment, and Youth Development) students who helped paint the mural after school.

"It was crazy, but awesome. It was so much work to teach these painting techniques to the kids, but they caught on pretty fast. I was impressed with their work," Marek said.

Students were also involved in the planning process before paint touched canvas. Marek, Johnson, Barber and Brokke Erickson visited the students in elementary art teacher Gabrielle Gerster's classroom to talk with the students about what they wanted to see included in the mural.

"We asked the students about what made them and their school awesome. Some of them had a hard time answering that question, so we encouraged them to look around and find the awesome. It was cool to see their confidence grow as we worked together," Johnson said.

The project was funded in part by an Arrowhead Regional Arts Council Arts Learning Grant. Brokke Erickson said the project is an example of St. Scholastica living out its mission as a Benedictine college by promoting "the study and practice of the arts, aware of their capacity to bring all to a deeper recognition of the nature and purpose of life itself." Brokke Erickson also wanted to acknowledge that Laura MacArthur achieved Reward School status through the Minnesota Department of Education in 2014.

"Which basically means they went from being an underperforming school to an over-performing school in a really short amount of time. They really focused in, developed after-school programs, and the teachers really genuinely care about the kids," Brokke Erickson said.

The mural will be permanently installed just inside the front doors of the school. After the mural was unveiled on Thursday, students signed the back of it.

"It's like a little time capsule, capturing the names of students here right now," Brokke Erickson said.

Teri Cadeau

Teri Cadeau is a reporter for the Budgeteer.

(218) 720-4176
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