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Sequoyah community comes together to preserve years of student artwork

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By Brae Davies

When Shira Wildschut walked into Sequoyah for the first time, it was not the cases of trophies or the framed certificates of excellence that assured her that Sequoyah was a place she could belong, but it was the hand-painted murals that lined the walls of the fine arts wing. A long running tradition, the murals have recently come into focus across the school and community as plans to have them painted over amongst the renovations for the 2018-2019 school year have been released.

“The new principal in his first call-to-action is planning on repainting the halls of the school, which is amazing for the school, but that also includes painting over artwork that has been on the walls of Sequoyah in the fine arts hall for almost 20 years,” junior Shira Wildschut said.

Students and community members alike have been disappointed by this announcement, and they have banded together to stop this from happening. A petition was created on change.org that now has over 1,700 signatures, and a group of students attended the Board of Education meeting to speak with county representatives about their concerns.

“Going to the school board meeting was to show that we really mean what we are saying, that we really don’t want [the murals] covered up,” Wildschut said.

The mural project was originally started by former art teacher, Ms. Julie Caponigro. The murals have all been painted by Sequoyah students in the fine arts department during their senior year.

“When a Sequoyah student has gone through three years of art, they are on track to take either painting or AP, so as a third or fourth year art student, if they have taken painting and are in AP or they are in painting as a senior, they qualify to leave a square on the wall, to leave their legacy,” art teacher Kim Brown said.

Students currently in the art department are particularly upset because the murals are something they have been inspired by, and they looked forward to completing their own.

“Ever since [I saw the beautiful murals], I found out that one day I could do one, and that has pushed me to really grow in my art and set a goal for myself to one day do that,” junior Alaina Carroll said.

As the students of the Sequoyah art department come and go, the murals have become a sort of constant.

“The murals provide a sense of unity between the art students, past and present, because they’re in the same area every time and over about 25 years, a lot of meaningful art has accumulated that newer students feel special for adding to,” junior Emelia Sengstock said.

The murals, however, are not exclusively admired by the art department. Other students have also adored the artwork.

“The murals impact a lot of people, not just the art students. The petition was created by a band student. It is not just the art students who are affected, even the people who are heavily involved in sports, they were shocked to hear that these were being painted over,” Carroll said.

The murals provide an opportunity for the talents of the artists of Sequoyah to be seen by every person that walks into Sequoyah.

“I think that the murals in the fine arts hallway are really a way to show anyone who walks into Sequoyah that the fine arts are something that matters to this school and that it is part of its community,” junior Anna Reid said.

The passion of Sequoyah students about this has even reached Mr. Robert Van Alstyne, the new principal overseeing the renovations. He has offered a compromise to the fine arts department.

“Mr. Van Alstyne wanted to let the students have a say as to how they want to preserve the wall art, and so I took his proposal to my advanced students and they came up with a number of alternatives. The most popular things that I brought back to Mr. Van Alystne were to create a series of collages that would be baked onto large canvases, framed, and permanently displayed in the art wing,” Ms. Brown said.

Future students would no longer paint on the wall, but they would be able to still leave their mark in a different way.

“Going forward, students would be presented with an 11 by 14 canvas that they would paint as a way of leaving their legacy and their mark.  [Their artwork] would be framed and hung in different areas, common areas in the hallways, for the entire campus to enjoy,” Ms. Brown said.

Although appreciative of this offer, students feel that this is not the best solution.

“The principal’s compromise is a good compromise, and I think it is a good way for the murals to be preserved. But painting over someone’s work is so heartbreaking. For someone to have used their bare hands, their imagination, and their love for art and for what they are doing to take their time to make an impact on the school [is incredible],” Reid said.

Other students feel that the wall paintings are more personal than canvases.

“The fact that the paintings are on the actual brick of the building, an actual piece of the school, instead of on a canvas that can be thrown away or tampered with, is both more meaningful and more permanent,” Sengstock said.

To counter Mr. Van Alsytne’s offer, the students have come up with a compromise of their own.

“Our plan is to tape over the artwork, so the painters can still paint over the fine arts hallway in the colors they would like because [the painters] do not do that in their company, which is understandable. Students have volunteered their time, and we will do whatever we need to do. People have already donated materials to do so, and hopefully Mr. Van Alsyne will allow us to do it,” Wildschut said.

A decision on the murals has not yet been made, but Mr. Van Alsytne, students, and county officials will be working to secure a solution that best benefits Sequoyah and preserves the art of decades of Sequoyah students and those to come.

 

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