In the latest Mark Making initiative stacked with new challenges, students and local artists have transformed a section of Riverfront Parkway into a vibrant mural manifesting the power of a shared vision for Chattanooga.
Mark Making, Howard School and PSC Metals, Inc. partnered over a year ago to cover a 1,200-square-foot wall at 19th Street where PSC Metals, Inc. is located.
The project—20/20 VISION—originally developed from the business’ desire to beautify its piece of the parkway and the nonprofit’s interest in structuring a piece of public art around the relationship between a mentor and a mentee.
“There’s never been 20 artists like that working side by side in Chattanooga. That’s a moment where you have 20 artists mentoring 20 students,” Frances McDonald, executive director of Mark Making, said. “We know that everyone’s an artists—that’s one of [Mark Making’s] core values. There was no question about that. It was just, how do you make this work?”
Mark Marking’s exploration of the dually beneficial relationship through public art fit into what Howard School art teacher Elizzabeth Beil hoped to promote for Howard School. Beil saw a thriving art scene and introduced a different aspect of the student body’s talent than had previously garnered attention.
With funding from The Tucker Foundation and PSC Metals, Inc., Mark Marking gathered 20 artists and matched each with a student, most of whom had never worked with or even met a professional artist.
The pairs were required to meet at least twice to brainstorm the theme of perspectives of and insights on life in Chattanooga and how those concepts could translate into the image of an eye. The collaboration pushed both the mentees and the mentors, presenting each with life experiences and approaches to art that were often completely separate from his or her own.
More than art
While the experiences varied from person to person, in most cases the art become a launching point for a much more meaningful relationship.
Jennifer Rubin took her mentee’s lead, helping to form a thoughtful piece from the creative outpour of Ronniesha Brown’s ideas. The two are now Facebook friends, and Rubin vouched for the experience’s enrichment of her as an artist.
Jas Milam and her mentee, Wes Roberts, also formed a tight bond. Their meetings yielded a black and white design that reflected Roberts’ color blindness, as well as a friendship that Roberts—in his statement of interest in 20/20 VISION—singled out as a major motivation for participating.
“You can see how empowering art is [in this project],” Milam said. “It’s a gift to the community also, and I think that creates a sense of belonging and ownership. The students see that this is good looking enough that the public will adore it.”
McDonald collected the sketches, scanned them and pieced the individual designs into a cohesive flow of twenty 10-foot wide, 6-foot tall blocks. Each block was buffered by a 5-foot long space of white wall. During the two-day painting weekend when the pairs put their work on the canvas, they were also tasked with creating a segway before and after their own piece to allow for transitions with their neighbors’ art.
In thinking back of the experience, a group of Howard School students laughed about that portion of the weekend being the more interesting but also the most difficult. Some had come to 20/20 VISION having no artistic background, while others have drawn and painted since childhood. None, however, had tackled a project of this scale, and each acknowledged the work required from learning to compromise over artist opinion to mixing paint.
Though the Mark Making staff continues putting the finishing touches on the piece and plans to make a public announcement when 20/20 VISION is completed, the students expressed their pride over the final product. The mural was painted with high quality material to ensure its durability. The students are already looking 20 years into the future when they can show their children their mark on Chattanooga.
“When I get older, I can look back and see what I did in high school,” Derreka Brown said.