By JESSICA KIM COHEN
There’s a new splash of art along Hyde Park Boulevard. A collaboration between Chicago Public Art Group artist Phil Schuster and Kenwood Academy’s art students, a new mural outside the school is part of an initiative to increase the presence of the high school’s art programming.
Schuster, a cement artist and the artist-in-residence at Kenwood, 5015 S. Blackstone Ave., led students in making clay sculptures, including leaves and flowers. Students also created individual clay representations of their passions, encompassing themes like writing and nature.
“It began with, maybe, each kid making a leaf, and they would put them all together into one bushel,” Kenwood Academy Art Teacher Janet Taylor said. “Phil would turn these into clay casts in concrete, so they’re permanent. We then started the idea of a passions mural, which was very student-driven.”
Many students were excited by the prospect of working with clay.
“I had been hoping for a pottery class in the art department,” Sally Ruan, Kenwood Academy junior and student in Taylor’s mixed media class, said. “So I was excited at first, but it was harder as we went along. There were different techniques that we had to learn, and clay gets very hard to work with over a long time, since you have to keep it moist. But I’m happy that the project is permanent. We’re making history.”
Currently in progress, the mural, displayed both on the Hyde Park Boulevard side of Kenwood Academy and in a hallway connecting art classrooms, is the outcome of a $10,000 Creative Schools Fund grant. A partnership between Ingenuity, an organization that supports art education in the Chicago Public Schools, and CPS’s Department of Arts Education, the Creative Schools Fund offers grants to CPS schools to expand their art programs.
According to Todd Osborne, art teacher at Kenwood, out of 40 grant recipients, only three were awarded for visual arts. Kenwood, in partnership with CPAG, is one of these three.
“After we found out we had won the grant, Phil came in for a meeting with the art department where we brainstormed a project to work on,” Osborne said. “He had this idea going on in his head, with birds and passion, since high school is a time when students begin thinking about moving on and going to college and doing what they’re passionate about.”
Schuster, with Kenwood art teachers and students, continued evaluating the mural’s concept throughout the year.
“We just kept adding on tasks,” Schuster said. “First the mural was something outside, but then they wanted something for the hallway, so that evolved. And the birds flying and having relief sculptures — it’s much more than I was expecting, and it isn’t over yet! It’s quite a difference.”
This summer, Kenwood art teachers will work on a proposal for a 2015 grant.
“Like it says in the grant, we are hoping to continue to fill this gap in the art department,” Osborne said. “We are going to apply for another grant next year, in an effort to keep expanding. It’s an expansion grant, so they’re potentially offering us more funds, but there’s also more numbers and data involved.”