This is Who We Are - Community Mural

Earlier this month I had the pleasure of facilitating a community mural with students at a local primary school within the Banyule council area. I worked alongside 40, 9-10-year-old students who spent time painting a representation of themselves onto pre-prepared stencils on large wooden boards. Some students represented themselves in a literal sense, whilst others explored a more figurative image and the result is spectacular.

The project aimed to encourage the children to consider their individuality in a strength-based way and celebrate their diversity through playful engagement with art. Using art-making with young people to explore and articulate the complex notion of identity, allows us to acknowledge the multiplicity that’s often felt when trying to define the intangible parts of ourselves, whilst simultaneously recognising and giving visual representation to the diversity of our community in a public space.

Banyule is a diverse council area, socially, economically and culturally it stretches across a broad spectrum. It’s easy to feel separated by differences, what we don’t know or assume about each other. This school was a wonderful site for this project, as it's a natural snapshot of the diversity in the council area. Within the community, schools play a significant role in creating a safe space for the broad range of people in our community to come together and be joined through our children.

This mural is a community built public art piece that reflects the unique value and character of the neighbourhood as highlighted through the perspective of our young people. The students were able to take control of what they wanted to represent as I sat back in support of their agency, they worked energetically to express their ideas about themselves and collectively represent their notion of community. By sitting back and letting the students take control I handed over the ownership of the mural to the students to share, to ensure that this mural became a piece of public art that reflected the vision and values of the school and its community. 

These students are the new iteration of our community and as such it is important to create an opportunity for their input, perspective, and contribution to be seeded in the fabric of our neighbourhood. Community built public art creates an opportunity for us to see ourselves and our stories, reflected in our public spaces. Projects such as this can change how people engage with a space; how comfortable and welcome diverse populations feel. It becomes less about how we assume we are and where we belong and asks us to consider the realities of how our community actually sees ourselves and how we are connected, seeding a positive future for inclusion and diversity in our children, their families and the larger community.

I put up a feedback board with some sticky notes and a few questions for the students to consider as an optional way to further discussion and reflect on the process.

The murals will be mounted on a prominent wall in the playground of the school so students can readily see their contribution to the piece on a daily basis. This is a public art project that will build community through shared experience and give the participants and residents of the neighbourhood a sense of pride and ownership as it highlights and celebrates who we are in a playful and inclusive way through art.

One of the completed boards is on display in the window of Shop 48, The Harmony Centre in Bell st Mall. It will be on display until the 14th of October when it will be returned to the school for permanent display.

This project was made possible by funding through Banyule City Council’s Art in Public Spaces program.

Jessie Brooks-DowsettComment