Brilliant trumpet tones bellow from a classroom at Lynnhaven Elementary. Artist David Freeman likes to listen to jazz while brushing paint across his mural. The brassy notes match the bold statement he makes with his art.
“Better Together” is the theme, and the mural shows grasping hands with a wide spectrum of skin tones, stretching over flags of many nations.
“I wanted to show people from all races and all countries,” said Freeman. “I just love diversity.”
The murals will surprise and inspire students after the difficult year of the pandemic and racial discord, said Kate Pittman, executive director of the ViBe Creative District, which recently commissioned four murals at Title I schools in Virginia Beach.
“When in-person educational outreach was not possible due to COVID, our board quickly voted to repurpose those funds into the Title I school murals,” she said. “Our goal is to remind children that their community cares for them and wants to encourage them to think positively and creatively in difficult times.”
The ViBe District published an open call for artist in January, and a lottery system selected four schools. Principals picked the artwork they felt best represented their school, and the artists received a $1,250 stipend. Under the theme “Better Together,” the 8-by-12-foot murals embrace cultural individuality while encouraging inclusivity.
In Freeman’s mural, an orange and yellow sun blazes over the planet Earth.
“If we humans all got along,” he said, “we’d create a powerful energy source.”
Principal Teri Breaux picked Freeman’s mural concept because it reflects the school’s values of celebrating Lynnhaven Elementary’s families and communities around the world.
“To watch it from a blank slate to a sketch, to now a colorful masterpiece has been exciting for us to see,” said Breaux, who is looking forward to the mural being in the school cafeteria for many years to come. “We want everyone in our school community to feel embraced and celebrated, and Mr. Freeman’s mural embodies that same vision.”
The three other “Better Together” artists are also VBCPS teachers:
- Holland Elementary teacher Allison Barao’s mural at Newtown Elementary incorporates student handprints and is emblazoned with the words, “You are loved; you are smart; you matter.” “I want the students who walk by to see it and read this affirmation daily,” she said. “I made the background a rainbow to show inclusivity for all students, including LGBTQ children who may feel like they have a harder time navigating at this age.”
- First Colonial High teacher Devon Miller’s mural is at Holland Elementary School. “I want to reach the students that are feeling discouraged, the ones that are disadvantaged, the ones that need an outlet and a support system – something all kids deserve,” Miller said.
- Bayside Middle teacher Summer Paradiso’s mural is at her school. “I have noticed the daily hardships that create an uphill battle for many of our students because of socioeconomic status and ethnic divides,” Paradiso said. “It’s my goal to inspire enthusiasm and courage in each one of these students in their educational journey.”
Paradiso’s artwork is being divided into two murals that will flank the exit doors to the cafeteria with the words “I am somebody” and “Better together.”
“It is an absolute honor to be able to create a mural for my students who inspire me every day,” she said. “To know that the faces I see in the hallways are the same ones that will look up at this mural and smile overwhelms me with joy.”
The Better Together project couldn’t come at a better time, said Laura Silverman, director of Title I programs.
“There’s a lot of emotion related to the pandemic, and that doesn’t skip over our children,” she said. “Our families are doing a great job caring for them. One way of providing additional love and support is doing a project that reminds students they are supported not only by their families and schools, but also from the community at large.”