Art has the unique ability to create a platform for children to express themselves freely while connecting with others on a deeper level. Throughout the summer of 2023, the Saugatuck Center for the Arts (SCA) partnered with Paw Paw Public Schools to create a student-made mural guided by SCA Exhibition Artist, Paloma Núñez-Regueiro.
During an 18-day summer program, the SCA worked with 35 students to create a multi-panel 10’ x 7’ mural which hangs outside the building of Paw Paw Middle School, welcoming students each school day at the drop-off area. The mural features artistic renderings of students from Paw Paw Schools.
“It captures and celebrates the energy and joy of middle school and tells each student that they go to school in a place that sees them and celebrates their individuality and the community we create together,” says Corey Harbaugh, Director of Curriculum and Instruction at Paw Paw Public Schools.
Several months before the summer school program began, photographers came to Paw Paw Middle School to collect photos of the children playing, learning, and flourishing. Paloma took these images, and additional images provided by Paw Paw community members, and used them for the base of the mural project.
One image at a time, Paloma created a collage of the Paw Paw student body, showcasing the strength, joy, and imagination of the children who learn there. Once the collage of images was created, Paloma’s mural design was projected onto canvas covered panels so that students could trace the image outlines. Then it was all hands on deck! Students, staff, and even community members worked together to paint in the color and details. Final touches were added by Paloma before the murals were installed.
Back in Saugatuck, Paloma’s exhibition To Practice Taking Root shares stories of minorities that often aren’t given space to have a voice. The pieces in Paloma’s exhibition honor diversity in our neighborhoods, communities, and cities, while also focusing on the fact that these same people are left with feelings of rootlessness, lingering discomfort, and being undervalued.
The mural project in Paw Paw became an extension of Paloma’s exhibition; giving the students a space to share their voice and tell their stories.
Many days were spent out in the summer sunshine: painting, chatting, laughing, and growing together. Community members from Paw Paw joined in the festivities. The creative doors opened and incredible conversations were sparked between children and adults alike – and of course, with Paloma, who joined the opening celebrations and many days working hands-on with students.
“We are so proud to make this connection between students, encourage them to use their voices, and support them in their journey toward becoming their true selves,” says Whitney Valentine, SCA Director of Education and Exhibitions. “Have you ever felt alone in the world, but then you find someone who shares your story and you suddenly feel at home? That’s what we get to do for these young people through the power of art.”