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"Courage & Identity" mural project gives Sudlow's third-floor hallway a new makeover

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The third floor of Sudlow Intermediate got a makeover as its 8th-grade students finished a six-day-long mural project earlier this week, collaborating local muralist Sarah Robb through a partnership with artsBASICS, a local non-profit seeking to increase art education opportunities.

The project was formally titled “Courage & Identity: Sharing Our Stories and Learning About Others.” Sudlow’s 8th-grade class all created symbols for what they feel gives them courage and defines their identity—these symbols were later stamped across several mural installations.

Robb hopes this immersive, artistic experience gave students further insight into those around them. But also, themselves.

“I hope it made them start thinking more about their own identity and their place in the world,” she said, noting they’ll soon transition to high school. “I hope it helped them relate to others while figuring out who they are in the next step of their life.”

Looking at the mural itself, Robb said it was a large collaborative effort.

“So I hope it taught them something in terms of working with a group and being adaptable to different situations,” she said. “They had to practice a lot of patience throughout this process.”

Marley Smith, a Sudlow student, said the project was a bit “chaotic” at first, but really fun overall.

“Everybody started to work into a flow after Sarah and the teachers planned what we were going to do,” she said. “It’s very satisfying to see all the different people, symbols and the work we all put in.”

Smith said that her experience with the project inspired her to explore mural work with artsBASICS in the future.

Richard McBride, another student, said they enjoyed the entire process and has learned more about finding symbolism in common-day things.

“...And I also think us all connect to each other. Even though we’re all in different classes, we can still work on something together to make it beautiful,” McBride said. “My class specifically gets to leave its permanent mark on the school. We didn’t just breeze through, we actually made a statement.”

Colleen Tomlinson teaches communications and media arts at the Creative Arts Academy (CAA) at Sudlow. Also co-director of artsBASICS, she said Quad City Arts Dollars Grant made the project possible.

“We’re just so happy the grant dollars were available to help us with this, and we’re so appreciative of the language arts faculty that were on board for this project, because it takes a lot of people and a lot of collaboration,” Tomlinson said. “This wasn’t just for CAA kids, it encompassed all 270 8th-graders.”

Tomlinson notes her artBASICS co-director counterpart, Heidi Hernandez, who helped write the grant and plan the project. Hernandez is also a visual arts teacher at the CAA. 

Students also drew inspiration from Thanna Lai’s novel “Inside Out & Back Again,” which the class is currently reading.

“We chose this book, because the timeline worked really well because it’s in their language arts curriculum,” Tomlinson said. “We’re also working with World Relief to get local refugee speakers to come in and talk to the kids.”

She said they’re still working to confirm details about the refugee speakers, but that speakers will share personal stories of enduring challenges and navigating their own identities.

Along with the stamped symbols, selfies of students were glued to the colorfully painted mural background.

As an educator, Tomlinson said the project gave students an opportunity to have a lasting voice in their school.

“It’s nice for their identity to be seen in the school and for them to begin to own the place they learn at every day, and to have pride in that” she said. “Middle school can be very challenging for kids, especially for social media … We do external research all the time; through the art, they got to do internal research. I think that’s also tremendously important, thinking about those social-emotional learning competencies. Especially in the time that we’re in after the pandemic, it’s extremely important for them and I think the arts correlates so much with that.”

As an artist, Robb feels that creativity is therapeutic and serves students well.

“We can do our academics—math, science and English—and all the things that we do to learn, but if you’re not nurturing some sort of creative side I think there’s a little bit missing,” she said. “If you can find a way to allow yourself to be creative or think outside the box, I think that will help you with anything in life.”

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