Tuesday, 17 April 2012

trees, leaves, seeds - and a mini-beast highway

At Dunkirk Primary and Nursery School, where I'm based as resident artist, we are developing a community garden and allotment on the school field.  It's an incredibly exciting development and lots of different elements are underway.  The school field is in a separate space from the rest of the school building, it's a 5 minute walk away - a walk that takes you through a subway which goes underneath the Nottingham ring road.  We use this subway daily with the children, and they use it as they walk with their families to and from school.  It's used constantly by many members of the local community (it takes about 40 minutes to try and cross the ring road the long way round, without going through the subway) and is a busy thorough-fare.  Until a couple of weeks ago, it looked like this:

... and that was taken "on a good day" with the sun out and not much litter...  It's not been a pleasant space at all to walk through and many people (school children and local adults) had talked for a long time about finding the subway rather intimidating.  It's been filled with various graffiti and litter and dog waste.

The children who are members of the Dunkirk School Council decided to do something about this - they wanted to create a mural and make the subway look and feel totally different.  They worked really hard creating plans, raising funds, talking with everyone in the school, they made presentations to the City Council and the Dunkirk and Lenton Dragons Den.  Their energy and ideas are really inspiring - and now the subway looks like this:

The mural was created over the whole of the last week of term, just before the Easter holidays.  Every single child in the school, all the staff and many of the parents and grandparents were involved.  Myself and Katy Doncaster worked as the artists on the project, we had a rough plan which we had designed with the children - they wanted a forest theme to the mural.  We used the wonderful tree drawings year 2 had created and transferred these into big images on the wall - and the children painted away all week, adding more ideas, colours, patterns and thoughts; the mural developed and grew as the week went on.  It was so lovely to work with a theme of nature, especially as it gives such a wonderful link between the school and the community garden.  There's so many different trees and leaves and flowers and fruit in the painting - and a mini-beast highway runs along the bottom of the whole wall.  Many of the trees have creatures in them and several have little doors in the trunks!   

Along the whole of one wall of the subway runs the forest painting (it's over 35 metres long) and along the other wall runs a rainbow wave / river of the handprints of everyone involved.  The children have loved finding their handprints again as they use the subway - and in finding the handprints of each other.  There's also a tree of handprints created by year 6.

One of the things that has been so incredibly striking and thought-provoking about the mural has been the sense of community created.  This is a huge part of the ethos at Dunkirk and a strong sense of community runs thorughout the whole school - both in terms of within the school itself but also in terms of the importance of the school within the wider community. 

Because we were in a public place whilst painting - and we were creating a lasting artwork in a public place - we were constantly chatting with members of the local community throughout the project.  The positive response we had was overwhelming and incredibly moving.  People were stopping all the time to say how wonderful the mural was, how brilliant it was to see the children painting and how the subway suddenly felt friendly, light, inspiring and a good place to be.



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