Dozens of people gathered in the Baker Wetlands Discovery Center Wednesday night to view the new mural by Van Go’s apprentice artists.
This spring’s Jobs in the Arts Make Sense (JAMS) program allowed 20 high school students to collaborate on a large-scale mural and five smaller works in the center’s Dr. Roger L. Boyd classroom.
Since the session began eight weeks ago, Van Go artists have spent their after-school hours working with wetlands staff to create and execute these pieces of art. Several students were even recognized for achieving perfect attendance, which is no small feat considering they worked on the mural Monday through Friday.
“Seeing how important the wetlands are to our community — and getting to put their time and creativity into showcasing that — is just really important for the youth,” said Sarah Humbert, Van Go’s office and development coordinator.
Thanks in part to a sponsorship from the Kansas Creative Arts Industries Commission’s Innovative Partnerships Grant, the artists were paid for their work and learned real-world skills as a result.
Adelia “LeStat” Wilson said her experience with Van Go taught her far more than how to mix paint; she learned how to cash a check, manage tax documents and be a better team player by creating these pieces of art.
“Van Go has helped me get to the point where I am now,” said Wilson, who will soon graduate from school. “Van Go has been there for me during the hardest times in my life.”
Before the students started working together on the paintings, they met with wetlands staff to brainstorm. Next, they spent weeks coming up with rough drafts before finalizing and presenting their plans.
Art director Rick Wright describes the last few weeks of the process as “a flurry of activity.”
“We had the five round panels on the floor; we had scaffolding; we had youth climbing up on it and climbing up the wall,” Wright said, laughing. “I’m very thankful we did not make any large messes with that.”
Many students expressed gratitude toward Van Go for giving them a space to create art with like-minded individuals.
“I’ve always wanted to find a place to make art with other artists, and Van Go was the perfect for that,” said Ruby “Ru” Yother, a 15-year-old artist who has worked with Van Go only once before. “Van Go has helped me become a better artist, and definitely a better team player.”
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Chloe Anderson (she/her) contributed to The Lawrence Times from August 2022 through May 2023. She is also published in Climbing magazine, Kansas Reflector and Sharp End Publishing. As a recent graduate of the University of Kansas, Chloe plans to continue her career in photography, rock climbing and writing somewhere out West.
You can view her portfolio, articles and commissioned work here. Check out more of her work for the Times here.