Juan Osorio, a Kansas City Art Institute student, stood outside an abandoned elementary school on a cold, gray Wednesday afternoon, putting final touches on a colorful image blending classic with contemporary.
One of his contributions to the mural project at Scarritt Elementary School, 3509 Anderson Ave., was the depiction of a sketch figure, plucked from the works of Michelangelo, standing in front of a mirror, using his cellphone to take a selfie.
“It’s taking old history and trying to combine it with technology today to kind of make a parody of the situation,” Osorio said of his artwork. “It’s something that’s meant to get you thinking.”
Osorio, joined last Wednesday by about 20 other KCAI students at the school, said the Scarritt mural project accomplishes two goals: It boosts aesthetics of the surrounding neighborhood, and provides students with a big, almost blank canvas with which to create.
“It’s been an opportunity for students to put a little bit of their creativity into something that can be seen in the public,” he said. “It’s been a great opportunity to try something new and experiment. It’s a great idea — trying to step up the bar and make the neighborhood beautiful.”
The two-story Scarritt Elementary School takes up an entire city block, and housed K-6 students before it was shuttered in 2010.
In the years since, neighbors have often complained about graffiti, vandalism and loitering at the school grounds.
This fall, KCAI students in the illustration department have worked to design and paint murals on the wood panels covering Scarritt’s doors and windows. The first section of panels was installed in October.
“It really does look nice now,” said Emmanuel Presquit, who lives across the street from Scarritt. “… People should be able to appreciate the art of something like that. It looks pretty cool.”
The mural project was a collaborative effort with Kansas City Public Schools.
School district officials were at the elementary school Wednesday, when final touches were made and the last of the mural’s panels were installed.
Steve Green, CEO/superintendent of schools, praised students for their skills and contribution to the community and school district.
“It’s amazing the respect that the neighborhood has for this,” Green said. “(The school) was tagged in a negative way, (but) we’ve tagged our building in a positive way.”
The school has not been vandalized since the artwork has been up, evidence the mural project has community support, Green said.
“The fact that it hasn’t been altered in any way suggests that it’s something to be proud of and left alone to stand on its own beauty,” he said.
Green and school district leaders also commended Art Institute instructor Hector Casanova, who spearheaded the mural project.
Likewise, Casanova is thankful to the school district for providing students with opportunity.
“I think it’s been a great experience for all of us,” he said to Green. “Thank you for giving us a big space to paint on.”
Casanova said the mural’s images derive from historical elements of the area, feedback from community members, and the artists’ imagination.
Wednesday’s work completes the second stage of the mural project, Casanova said. KCAI students will not work on the mural project again until August 2015.