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How an elementary school is using a mural project to empower its students

How an elementary school is using a mural project to empower its students

Riverside Central Elementary is using a school art project to build community and empower kids to think creatively.

More than 500 students at Riverside are participating in the Identity Project, a school-wide initiative that will ultimately result in a new mural going up on the exterior of the building. The artwork will reflect the ideas, talents and personalities of Riverside's diverse student body.

"It's a symbol of what this community stands for," Mohammed Gaafarelkhalifa, a volunteer at Riverside, says of the mural.

Expression through art

With the help of local camera wiz Josh Banks, each student was photographed for their own portrait. Some students dressed up as superheroes; others jumped in the air with friends. 

Then once the photos were printed, students were asked to turn the portraits into creations of their own imaginations. 

"We wanted every child to be displayed doing what represents them," explains Lida Casper, community school site facilitator at Riverside. 

The result is a collection of artwork that at once represents both the uniqueness of the students, as well as their shared sense of creativity.

"Every part of this has been just completely lovingly cared for, and our kids held in the highest regard," says Lida.

'Empowering opportunity'

For the past few months, the artwork from Riverside has lined the walls of the Minnesota Children's Museum Rochester for the community to see.

"That has been really powerful for us," explains Mohammed.

From the very beginning, he says, students were told to think of themselves as artists. So when they heard their work would be represented in a place like the museum, there was a lot of excitement.

"That was an empowering opportunity for each kid to see their own artwork hanging on the wall," says Mohammed.

Next Wednesday, September 5, the museum will host a closing reception for the gallery from 5:30-7:30 p.m. The event is an opportunity to thank the students for their efforts and auction off some of the original artwork.

The reception is free and open to the public, with donations happily accepted. All proceeds will be shared by Riverside and the museum.

Mural to go up this fall

The final mural design will also be unveiled at Wednesday's event.

The design, a draft of which was presented at a recent open house, will combine elements of the students' artwork with input from the community.

Muralist Greta McLain will assist with the effort. However, using a paint-by-number system, students will be able to do much of the work themselves.

The 1,000 square-foot mural is expected to be unveiled in October. (Update: the mural was unveiled at an event in May 2019.)

Community members can help with the mural on September 8 for Kids Day at the Rochester Downtown Farmers Market.

Cover image: The Identity Project gallery at MCM-Rochester

Videography by Tyler Aug

Published in partnership with Minnesota Children's Museum Rochester.

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