“I want to get students thinking about community art as early as possible,” notes GLCPS art teacher Jon Vecchiarelli. “As residents of New Bedford, they are able to see public art. Fortunately, there are a good number of murals throughout the city, so this fits the students’ definition of what art is. They are making real art, just like the art they see in New Bedford.”
Before the students began working on the mural, they looked at exposed pipes in the school, noting how they are connected, the fixtures on the pipes, their various sizes and placement, explained Mr. Vecchiarelli, who has been teaching art at GLCPS for 13 years. Then, they worked on their own sketches before collaborating on the paper canvas.
At first, they were excited to work on the project together, said Mr. Vecchiarelli. At one point, excitement gave way to a fair amount of frustration. “The students had to work through disagreements and conflicts. They had to communicate their views and learn how to compromise. They were riding a wave throughout the process. With this type of project, students learn to persevere. They learn how to collaborate,” Vecchiarelli said.
After the frustration came a wave of satisfaction and pride in what, together, they had created. The excitement returned as the students, who are all first-year students at GLCPS, now see their work prominently displayed in their school.
Bricks, pipes and electrical lines make up the background of the piece to display a myriad of creatures, some realistic and some whimsical, living beneath the city. Among the details are dripping pipes, spiders and spider webs, and a creature’s tiny home complete with a refrigerator and television. There are worms, mice, bats and rats. There’s a beehive and bees. The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles are there too, peeking out of a hole. There are also two workers underground, a man and a woman.
Beyond the challenges of collaborating on an art project, this is the first time most, if not all of the students have worked on a large canvas. “Younger students typically work in small spaces,” Mr. Vecchiarelli said. “Even when given a whole sheet of paper, they often use just a small part of the space. With a mural, they are challenged by a large scale art piece. It takes them outside of their comfort zone."
This is one of six groups of 5th grade students Mr. Vecchiarelli will guide through this process. By the end of the school year, there will be six unique murals to display. Not all of them, he said, will be the underside of a city.
Each group of students will have their own ideas and opinions about what kind of mural they want to create, he explained, and they will all find their way through the process. “It’s going to be fun to see what they create.”