Vandalism galvanizes arts educators
October 31, 2008
It’s a crime worthy of an after-school special.
Vandalism at the newly decorated bus shelter that sits on Kearns Boulevard has raised the ire of some artists and educators and added new urgency to a task force that wants to expand dance, music, drama and visual art programs in Summit County schools.
The shelter in front of McPolin Elementary School is festooned with oversized metal cutouts of butterflies, dragon flies and dogs. Cartoon figures peak their heads above windows, ride bicycles and grin unabashedly.
But some real-life students haven’t been so sunny about the project. Since opening last week, the shelter has been tagged with crass language and doodles drawn with permanent marker. One butterfly, painted by an Arts Kids student named Lucy, has been bent and nearly dislodged from its welded perch.
Illustrator Bob Commander designed and created the shelter for kids to paint.
"We need to get troubled kids more involved," Command said. "If we came up with a project for the older kids who thought this was stupid, we could turn a negative into a positive."
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Now, some educators are trying to put just such a positive spin on the discouraging news. Kathy Hunter of the Park City Summit County Arts Council is spearheading a task force to expand exposure and enrollment in art classes for kids. "We’d love to do whatever we can to prevent [vandalism] from happening," Hunter said. Part of that effort has been to bring artists, educators, nonprofit organizations and advocacy group to the table.
Group members are the Kimball Art Center, the Park City Education Foundation, the Park City Museum and Historical Society, Spiro Arts, Arts Kids, the Park City Conservatory and the school district.
Organizers are already starting to see results.
An after-school pilot arts program that runs for two hours after the final bell rings at McPolin has been well-attended, organizers said, and will be offered for the rest of the school year.
The task force plans to pull together a portfolio of arts organizations, internships and pathway programs available for kids from kindergarten to grade 12. More college scholarships and internships are the goal, Hunter said.
"We want to have a day at the high school where art schools meet with kids and they can show off their portfolios," she explained. "We want to focus on sharing information to get the big picture."
Right now, the big picture has a big hole, according to Monika Guendner of the Park City Education Foundation. "Music classes don’t start until fifth grade and visual art classes don’t start until junior high," she said. Rather than hire more teachers, Guendner recommends teaching instructors to infuse math, science and English lessons with art. Third graders can learn about symmetry, for example, by making snowflake decorations.
The larger vision doesn’t just include kids in school, but also at risk populations after school. Jenny Dorsey, the development assistant, for Arts Kids, said she learned firsthand what a difference an art project can make it a child’s life.
Just look at Lucy, who painted the butterfly. "She started out hesitant," Dorsey said. "But once she started with that first coat of paint her imagination just took off."
Lucy was one of about 25 elementary school students who spent hours in the summer painting the shelter’s many storybook adornments, according to Pat Sanger, executive director of Arts Kids, the nonprofit that sponsored the project and helped secure money for it. (The city contributed more than about $10,000 to have the shelter built.)
"I find it kind of odd," Commander said Thursday afternoon, "for someone to destroy something within minutes that took hours to create."
Commander spent a few hours earlier this week with a bottle of cleaner and a rag scrubbing away graffiti. Before the bus was painted, it had never been vandalized. Now, within a week of being completed, it has been marked up more times than a pop quiz. "As soon as you put the art up," Commander said, "all of a sudden it triggers other kids to express themselves."
The bus shelter isn’t the first of its kind to be built in the city. Nor is it the first to be defaced. Taxpayers have dolled out about $64,000 for eight themed bus shelters that now dot the county from Kimball Junction to Silver Lake Lodge in Deer Valley. The first one was built in 2005. Now dogs, old-west belt buckles and dragons adorn shelters here, according Hunter. "The goal was to integrate art into the community," she said. "The bus shelters are highly visible places and they were designed to reflect elements of the community."
Dorsey and Commander stood in the bus shelter Thursday trying to figure out how to wash away the marker. A boy with plush headphones around his neck walked up to the bus stop and waited for his ride to arrive. He watched in mystified horror as the adults approached and tried to talk to him.
The bus pulled to the curb and the kid hopped on, spared, at least for today.