Around the UFT

Mural gives students ‘voice’

The founders of Artolution speak as the mural is presented. Jonathan Fickies

The founders of Artolution speak as the mural is presented.

Students and staff play the percussive instrument portion of the mural at the co Jonathan Fickies

Students and staff play the percussive instrument portion of the mural at the conclusion of the event.

Chapter Leader Thomas Rosa speaks during the unveiling of the mural at 751M, Man Jonathan Fickies

Chapter Leader Thomas Rosa speaks during the unveiling of the mural at 751M, Manhattan.

There’s a new mural outside 751M in the East Village that staff members say captures the diversity, individuality and love of the nearly 60 students who created it. Students with special needs and LGBTQ students embraced the opportunity to express themselves in the mural, an imposing 25 feet high and 160 feet long.

Students from 751M, the Manhattan School for Career Development, and the neighboring Harvey Milk HS gathered outside 751M on May 7 to celebrate their colorful art project, created in only three weeks with the help of Artolution, a community-based public art organization with a social justice focus, and the law firm Paul Hastings LLP, which helped finance the mixed media project.

Students at 751M have diverse cognitive and emotional needs while Harvey Milk HS is designed for LGBTQ students. The mural depicting their faces allowed students to tell their stories and reimagine themselves through art — one transgender Harvey Milk student spoke about “depicting the body I always wanted” in the mural.

In addition to being artwork, the mural is an interactive musical instrument. The phoenix represented on it, christened the “birdstrument,” was created by recycling objects that some students drummed and tapped to create music while others sang at the opening celebration.

751M art teacher Kaitlyn Stillwagon (left) and paraprofessional Cruz Morban put Jonathan Fickies751M art teacher Kaitlyn Stillwagon (left) and paraprofessional Cruz Morban put up photos chronicling the design of the mural.

Paraprofessional Brenda Torres of 751M, who painted the bumble bees on the mural, said it was rewarding to watch kids who don’t normally work well together instead collaborate effectively with their peers. The mural “gave students voice” and the process forced them to “step out of their comfort zones,” she said.

Thomas Rosa, a dean and the UFT chapter leader at 751M, was happy to “see students creating art in a nonjudgmental environment.” He said the project allowed students on the autism spectrum to shine.

His colleague, art teacher Kaitlyn Stillwagon, thought the best part was seeing students “show who they are in a loud, powerful way.”

See more photos in the gallery »

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