Empowering and unifying communities through { art } …*

In a recent TEDglobal 2014 talk, artists Jeroen Koolhaas and Dre Urhahn talk about their work painting entire impoverished neighborhoods, from Rio to Philadelphia. They enlist the help of community members, move into the communities, and paint the towns in vibrant beautiful colors, with murals and other interesting pieces. As Koolhas and Urhahn explain, “ in a communal effort, together with the people, you can almost work like in an orchestra, where you can have a hundred instruments playing together to create a symphony.” In the video below, you can see the beautiful symphonies they have created. 

This work reminded me a lot of a suburb I visited once in South Africa. Woodstock is a suburb outside of Cape Town that is transforming into an art haven. Similarly to the stories Koolhaas and Urhahan mention, the murals that are painted in Woodstock have a way of unifying and brightening up a community that is struggling to get on its feet. I went on a tour with one of the men who runs the project, and he explained that many local artists apply to get rights to paint murals in the community. All pictures in this article are ones I took while visiting. Each mural must convey something about South Africa – many speak to the overwhelming love and strength of the community, others make statements about preserving the incredible wildlife native to this country.

As explained more thoroughly in this article, these murals have had a way of rejuvenating the community. From my experience, the contrasts of the murals with the broken down buildings and the surreal backdrop (Cape Town is on the coast, surrounded by mesas and mountains), creates a symphony it and of itself. The experience so closely related to my general experience of South Africa. The article was written in 2011, and from my visit in 2013 I can say that Gordon has definitely attracted more artists to the area.

Oftentimes we let art and culture fall to the wayside while we focus on STEM, but projects like this can remind you of the power and empowering properties of art. Transforming the feeling of a community can do wonders for its children. It can inspire, it can bring joy. It adds a sense of self-identity with the walls and roofs surrounding you. Community projects like this can unify and build connections and help communities to forge ahead and make real progress.

Bringing this back to the classroom, murals and street art can be educational and important even for students in our own schools. I still remember painting murals in the hallways of my elementary school. It was an honor bestowed upon groups of students who presented their ideas to the administration and art teacher. But, more than that, it was a way for us as a community to take ownership over our school. It was a way of making the school building feel a little more like our own. It also was the sort of project that took planning and teamwork, as well as thoughtful consideration of what sorts of murals would be beneficial to our community.

How has street art transformed the world around you? Could it? …* 

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