September 2019 – April 2020
Principal: Julie Lawler
Art teacher: Mason Burbach
Music teacher: Amanda Anderson
Teaching Artist: Tom Meyers
Tom Meyers is undertaking a year-long project working with 4th graders to create a mural piece to celebrate the school’s 25th anniversary. The theme of is Joy, and the mural will represent the word in all of the more than 20 languages spoken at the school. The content of the mural was inspired by 5th grader’s memories and conceptions of joy. The students created pieces that they gave to Tom, who incorporated the themes in to the mural design.
A musical component has the students writing a school song based on the melody from Beethoven’s Ode to Joy. Students were introduce to Beethoven and the concept of emotion in music through a school visit and performance by Clark Potter and three other UNL professors.
This residency was unique in its scope and in the fact that it combined two artistic disciplines: art and music. In addition to the 4th graders experiencing creating art that inspired the mural, the whole school was engaged with the project, which was a new experience. An unanticipated aspect of this residency was the way students interact with Tom as he paints in the hallway. They all know him by name, and every kid who wants to has been given the chance to add to the mural. It’s a memory they won’t forget, and the piece is something they return to see long after they graduate.
The organizing theme of the mural is joy. In the beginning, 5th graders discussed the human experience of joy, its antecedents and expressions. During the early brainstorming work students contributed ideas and images to be considered for the eventual composition of the mural.
Tom then translated their ideas into the mural, figuratively and in some cases literally. As the actual painting began to take shape Tom constantly allowed students to add little bits to the mural.
Tom recalled several memories as he worked on the mural. Her are a few of his favorites:
-- Three girls got to know Tom walking through the hallway each day. He let them all help a bit on the mural. One day the three girls came out of class with their violins and played Ode to Joy for him, which they had learned in secret. A crowd gathered as they played. The next day Tom brought his ukulele in and played ‘It’s a Wonderful World’ for them and several other kids who gathered in the hallway.
-- A boy with selective mutism would sit in the hallway near where Tom works, to eat lunch and do other works. Tom asked him if he’d lie to paint, and he nodded that he would. Noticing his talent, Tom let him draw a larger area. Tom showed him some techniques. The boy, though he never spoke, came back one more than one occasion to paint some more.
--Tom got to know a non-verbal wheelchair-bound student well and painted her in to the mural. He showed the girl’s father who was emotional and grateful.
-- Rahaf, a Kurdish refugee, chose Tom as the person she admired the most and wrote an essay about it. She posed for a photo with him and the essay and photo are on the wall outside the main office.