Students in Denise Tanaka’s eighth grade art class were ecstatic when they learned they had their teacher’s approval to paint several lockers around the school. Through the “I Am” Project, a classroom of budding artists painted images reflecting their personalities and interests on lockers normally painted in the school’s Tiger Cub-orange hue.
“The ‘I Am’ Project gave students the opportunity to create something permanent that is a reflection of who they are,” said Ms. Tanaka. “Middle schoolers are defined by a variety of activities and interests. I wanted the students to have a positive experience sharing who they are with other students and the outside world.”
Ms. Tanaka developed the idea for the student art project after she learned about South Pasadena’s Box Art Project from the District’s Assistant Superintendent of Instructional Services, Christiane Gervais. Both the Box Art Project and the I Am project aim to connect people with art in their daily lives.
“The Box Art Project, developed this year and supported by funds from the City Council, is the first public art project created by SPARC in South Pasadena, and SPARC is committed to a long-term program of enhancing the community environment through the inclusion of art in public places,” added Howard Spector, Director of SPARC.
Students first discussed The Box Art Project in class, then worked in groups and brainstormed appealing topics. Each group sketched their ideas on paper adding details and colors to enhance the image. Ms. Tanaka painted the lockers white so that when the students transferred their ideas to the metal surfaces, the colors would show through clearly. Students faced some challenges with the project including painting on bumpy, rough surfaces and making mistakes that were not easy to cover up – requiring a few groups to start over from the beginning but persevering and triumphing in the end.
“We both have strong personalities and picking one theme was hard,” said student Mea Limon. “We developed an image that someone like Andy Warhol might have created using words that describe us and ones that are part of our everyday language. We also used almost every color in this project – we really wanted it to stand out.”
Student project themes ranged from “I Am a Nature Lover” to “I Am STEM” to “I Am an Animator” and “I Am an Athlete” and groups of two to three students typically worked together. Over the course of approximately four weeks, empty lockers or lockers that belonged to the art students were designed and painted.
“I painted this locker to remind people of their favorite books and the serenity of reading,” said Tristan Bragg. “I moved here from Bakersfield a few months ago, and this image reflects my escape place and the peacefulness you experience when you read.”
Ms. Tanaka would like to continue the program in the fall by engaging students in painting the utility box on campus. For now, the students enjoy having a few lockers brighten the halls during their daily routines. Through this project, the hope is that students understand a little more clearly what’s involved in establishing a public art project.