By Katie Kohler
June marks a time students reflect on how they have “left their mark” on their school. But at Norristown Area High School, it’s not only the graduating seniors who are contemplating their legacy. On Friday afternoon, a ceremony was held to celebrate the completion of the “Voices of Peace and Social Transformation” mural which involved about fifty students. The mural is part of CCATE’s 21st Century Community Learning Programs at the high school. It was designed by CCATE Director Obed Arango with the collaboration of Caitlin Brady.
Arango taught students about conceptual obstructionism, which is the type of art that helps reflect complex concepts of realities, representative in symbolic forms.
For the project, which lasted the duration of the school year, students were tasked to reflect on peace, transformation, diversity, and how to contain violence.
The students went to a conference at The University of Pennsylvania in October 2017 to listen to Dr. Jans Fromow Guerra, (Nobel Peace Prize 2017) talk to CCATE students about the effects of nuclear arms and the importance of promoting peace. The mural is also inspired by the speech of Marian Vidaurri, Chief Political Strategist of the Organization of American States, who talked about communities organizing for social transformation.
“In this mural, you can see all the circles are contained violence,” explained Arango. “They represent communities of every kind through history. The second part of the mural is inspired by community roots, and the last part is about rebirth. The mural starts with the sun and ends with the moon.”
Students weren’t required to have prior art classes or experience. During the program, they were trained to understand theory of color, theory of shape, and elements of philosophy of art and arts history.
Arango noted that the program didn’t have the $2,000 to purchase a compass to make the circles for the mural but they did have a pencil and a string.
“I will teach you how to do circles perfect,” he told the students. “It was so beautiful to see how we can empower ourselves with the tools we have. We don’t need to be rich. We don’t need to have everything. We can use imagination, creativity and never limit ourselves in making tremendous artwork.”
Arango said Friday’s ceremony was a time to “honor the artists” and he praised the students’ commitment and growth through the process of creating the 90 ft. mural.
Students discussed their experience with the mural and many of them shared that it helped them relieve stress, describe inner feelings, grew their appreciation for art.
“It blows my mind all the potential we have,” said Arango. “It made me think, many times we think in numbers. I’d like us to think in people…in young people, with tremendous potential and personal stories.”
“It’s a beautiful mural. It’s been neat watching it happen throughout the course of the year,” said Principal Ed Roth. “This is a place that kids aren’t just excited to be during the day, but they are here after school working. That’s the beauty of the school – there is a place for everyone here.”
In collaboration with the Norristown Area School District and the Pennsylvania Department of Education’s 21st Century Learning Centers, CCATE runs an afterschool program – CCATE at Norristown Area High School – to promote student achievement, academic excellence and the development of students’ artistic talents and interests.
CCATE at Norristown Area High School runs from Monday-Thursday, 2:30-5:15 pm, and includes a number of workshops such as Environmental Health and Garden Design, Engineering, Critical Language Awareness, Pop Art, and Mural Painting.
CCATE is the Centro de Cultura, ARte, Trabajo y Educación. Visit www.ccate.org for more information.