Hope Bubbles

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Art mural engages children at community center

By Crystal Baity
ECU News Services

Paintbrushes in hand, almost every child at Building Hope Community Life Center in Greenville created his or her own bubble for a mural on an outside brick wall. The bubbles float down from a soda can, a “thank you” to Pepsi for a $10,000 Refresh grant awarded to the center last fall.

The center is a faith-based non-profit organization on Ninth Street designed to help at-risk students from local schools stay on track academically, while giving them social and spiritual support and infrastructure for success.

The mural’s lead designer, Jarmarcus Patterson, 18, graduated in June from J.H. Rose High School and hopes to incorporate his artistic talents with a career one day. Patterson and other children from the center worked alongside East Carolina University art student Cory St. Clair and art professor Robert Quinn on the mural.

ECU became involved through the university’s Student Engagement and Outreach Scholars Academy. In collaboration with Rob Lee, Building Hope’s executive director, Quinn developed 10 weeks of afterschool art lessons with the ultimate goal of involving K-12 students in a large-scale mural painting project on the wall of an adjacent building.

ECU’s engagement and outreach program is believed to be the first of its kind and a national model. Graduate students, undergraduate East Carolina Scholars and faculty mentors across disciplines at ECU team up to work with community partners on a semester-long research project, said Beth Velde, academy coordinator and director of public service and community relations at ECU.

Lee wanted to find out if having students involved in the weekly art activities influenced their resilient traits, or traits that help overcome change or hardships, and overall well-being. ECU undergraduate student Hannah Potter of Marshville and graduate student Samantha Fuerderer of Greenville developed surveys and interviewed students. Results are still being analyzed, Quinn said.

Through the spring semester, the center’s afterschool students learned how to sketch, sculpt and design in the weekly art lessons.

For the mural, each child was asked to create a bubble or circle on the wall. “The bubbles could be whatever they wanted,” Quinn said. “Some people put their name on it. Some put a football number on it. Some put Bible verses or encouraging sayings. Each applied their own style to it.”

Lead elementary school teacher Jayme Wall said the art project supplemented the traditional reading and math work that students do at the center after school. “I think them getting their own bubble, their own space, that’s lasting,” said Wall, an ECU alumna. “I think they understand that they’re going to have a lasting impact on Building Hope.”

Atlas Kelly, an ECU alumnus and social worker at Building Hope, said the middle and high-school aged boys he mentors really enjoyed the project. “Their idea of what art is has changed in doing this,” he said. “The mural gives them a sense of ownership and pride.”

Larger bubbles highlight words of “hope,” “renew,” “respect” and “refresh.” Patterson also incorporated the logos of two groups at the center, 300 Men of Standard, and Women of Worth. The groups focus on developing and encouraging positive character traits among young men and women. The center offers several programs including life skills for parents, a summer Student Success Academy for rising sixth-graders, and ReCycle, an innovative on-site repair shop for used bikes and computers.

In another collaborative project between Building Hope and ECU, Patterson had the opportunity to turn parts of bicycles into a public art project on display in downtown Spartanburg, S.C. Six different bicycle frames were used in the sculpture, which has cranks that turn and horns that honk.

“I like working with my hands,” Patterson said. “It keeps me busy. The more busy I am, the less trouble I get in to.”

Lee, the center’s director, said the mural kept the children engaged.

“The impact on our kids, they came up with the whole idea, but we couldn’t have done it without Dr. Quinn and Cory, their expertise and energy. They took it to heart and took ownership of it,” Lee said. “From our little kids to our high schoolers, a thing like this has a tremendous sense of accomplishment.”

Perched on a ladder, St. Clair said the mural is the first public art project he has done. He has gotten advice from his mom, an art teacher who has painted murals. “It’s an awesome experience for me,” he said. “It’s been a lot of fun.”

Jerry’s Artarama in Raleigh donated $1,100 in paint and other supplies for the mural, Quinn said, while ECU provided additional funding.

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