The Hall Fletcher Mural project is the result of a community collaboration led by the Asheville City Schools Foundation, the 'Roots + Wings Community Design Lab' (RWDL), artists Alex Irvine (ceramics) and Ian Wilkinson (painter) and the students and staff of the school.
It is surprising to many to learn that there is a wide disparity in the percent of students living in poverty among our local schools. Hall Fletcher Elementary has long been one of the poorest schools in Buncombe County with more than 80% of the students served by the free and reduced lunch program. As part of an effort to uplift these students, and support this staff, the community has rallied with one of the most ambitious transformation projects in the region.
Staff and neighborhood community members have been talking for more than five years about how to best enhance the school and communicate the value of each of these students. "This project aligns two things that we care about deeply - increasing equity by investing in the schools and classrooms with the highest poverty and keeping arts education in our schools." says Kate Pett, executive director of the Asheville City Schools Foundation. The Asheville City Schools Foundation helped connect the school to funding resources and great local artists and organizations that could bring the project to life. In addition to generous donations to the Foundation, this project was supported by the N.C. Arts Council, a division of the Department of Cultural Resources, with funding from the National Endowment for the Arts.
The mural has been a teaching tool - artists Ian Wilkinson and Alex Irvine spent a month in classrooms with fourth-grade students who helped design the work. Students learned about elements of design, painting and tiling, and actually created hundreds of tiles that appear on the walls of the building now.
"This mural project is powerful- it captures the hopes of the children at Hall Fletcher, and the commitment of the community to invest in and celebrate these students. We believe that this kind of art builds community," says Ginger Huebner, co-director of the RWDL. Students from Asheville Middle School and UNC Asheville’s Crafting Community with Teens course engaged in community service by creating many of the tiles that cover the school entrance during afterschool programming at the RWDL, led by Huebner and UNC Asheville professor Brent Skidmore.
Ian Wilkinson and Alex Irvine have provided hands-on instruction to children in all aspects of the design and building of the mural. "I have seen this project really increase children's enthusiasm for being at school. From holding the paintbrush, to forming the tiles, these kids know that they have had a hand in making something special. And they are excited that this work is permanent -these kids will be able to return in twenty years and show their friends and family, 'I did that!' says Wilkinson, a muralist who works on projects across the region and at several other sites nationally.
Sculptor and architectural ceramic artist Alex Irvine has a love for public art and has made multiple murals, but not with children. "I am continually impressed by how inclusive the ceramic / mosaic process is and how rewarding it is to see the kids learn and experience it. I don't think the children or I realize how big this project is. Their marks in clay have been immortalized in ceramic and will inspire thousands of future students."