On October 3rd, 2011, President Obama declared October as National Arts and Humanities Month. While referencing Norman Rockwell’s painting “The Problem We All Live With,” which speaks to the struggle for racial equality in our Nation, he reminded us of the impact artists have in influencing our society. The President stated, “This is the power of the arts and humanities — they speak to our condition and affirm our desire for something more and something better. Great works of literature, theater, dance, fine art and music reach us through a universal language that unites us regardless of background, gender, race or creed.”
This sentiment runs parallel to the story we have to share with you about an Imagekind Artist who succeeded in keeping this appreciation for the power of art in the lives of children. I doubt one of you is not passionate about keeping quality art programs in all of our schools. Thankfully, the passion and dedication we have for our own art can also be a contagious and influential way of achieving this goal.
Joanna Whitney is a shining example of how we can all help keep art in our schools. We hope you will enjoy her story, which we are sure will encourage each of you to reach out to local schools and explore ways that you can support art education as well. In 2002, Joanna Whitney answered an advertisement on an artist’s message board that called for an artist to create a mural that would focus on the theme “Martin Luther King’s message” at an Oakland Public Elementary School in California. As soon as Joanna learned that the school system had cut all art programs and teachers in its schools, she knew she had to act.
The Marcus A. Foster Elementary School Martin Luther King Day Mural Project Sponsored by Learning For Life
I was horrified, trying to imagine my dismal life in elementary school without art to look forward to. So I decided it was important that I join with Julie McDonald, event coordinator for Learning for Life, who funded the event. Learning for Life is a non-profit program dedicated enabling students to achieve their full potential through career exploration. Martin Luther King’s message inspired me to create an image that portrayed the idea that we can all live and grow together in the warmth and light of the Human Spirit. I saw that symbolized in a garden with a giant sun shining down upon it. Because the mission of the project was to provide a way for the school children to foster their creativity and build self-esteem, we encouraged them to draw creatures that would live together harmoniously in the garden. We wanted to allow them experience participating in a project from start to finish so that they could take pride in the beautification of their school, and thus their community. The neighborhood that surrounds this school was well-known as an economically challenged area which was infested with drugs.
On Martin Luther King Day, January 20th, in 2003, the painting officially began. All the kids got together with teachers and parents and painted the mural background. About 3 months later, the mural was complete when the words of a 5th grader were placed over it in bright white letters. The poem was written before the project was initiated. It read, ‘I have a Dream that we will see a rainbow on a rainy day full of stars with the sun shining down on our faces. I have a Dream that children all over the United States should live to see the wonderful things in life like birds, bees, and even a whale in the deep blue sea.’
Congratulations to Joanna for taking on such a challenging and important endeavor! We love our artist community! We are so encouraged by the way you all support one another in your efforts to grow and challenge yourselves and your skills. In that same spirit, we’d like to encourage you to participate in the upcoming National Creative Conversation on October 25th hosted by Americans for the Arts. The conversation is titled, “Community Engagement in the Arts” and is held from 2-3:30pm EDT. This is exactly why Imagekind for Humankind was created – to inspire all of us to become more involved in our communities. This is a perfect way to start if you haven’t yet.