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Street Art Inspires in and out of the Classroom

By Amanda Atwell & Justin Ball

Atlanta’s incredible street art scene became the source of imagination, creation, and education at the Grant Park Cooperative Preschool (GPCP) this year.

Last summer, GPCP offered a successful Beltline Summer Camp experience where young children explored and examined local art featured on the famed Atlanta Beltline. During these adventures, a particular image depicting the torso of a giant muscular shark baring its teeth became the favorite source of inspiration sparking the most imaginative storytelling from the multi-age class.  Amanda Atwell, an educator at GPCP, found the creator of this particular piece on Instagram and shared with him how much the children enjoyed seeing his art.  The artist, known as Dusty Persona, was so happy to hear how his work inspired young children that he made enough full-size vinyl stickers of his “city shark” image for every child in the class for the upcoming school year. These stickers and this summer camp experience became the inspiration for what would become a year-long research thread in the Frogs class at GPCP, including “art walk” field trips, sticker slapping events led by local artists, and culminating with an in-class, mixed-media collaboration.

The “art walk” field trips brought children to admire street art along the Krog Street Tunnel as well as the Forward Warrior murals that adorn Wylie Street.  In addition to exposing the children to remarkable public works of art, these public spaces offered unique sensorial experiences to these young kids.  Unlike most art they had seen in museums, the children were able to run their hands along the murals and even commented on the changes in texture as the visual representations shifted.  The children noticed and distinguished between the diverse soundscape in and around the tunnel–ranging from loud noises such as trucks and horns honking, the sounds of voices echoing, to the sounds of the MARTA train speeding by. And finally, the children noticed and engaged with the intersection between the natural and urban worlds.  At a very young age, these children grappled with concepts related to public versus private, property rights, community, privatization, and art as a social construct.

Now armed with a sense of the public art world, the children were charged with the task of figuring out how and what to do with the “city shark” stickers gifted to them. The choice was framed as such: You can keep one sticker and take it home for yourself, or you can join our sticker slapping field trip groups to put up a sticker in the community near the tunnel. The vast majority of children declared their intention to share it with the community. As one child explained, “We should share it with the community because that’s nice and other people can see it like we saw the murals.”

Feeling a sense of ownership and belonging to the local art community, the children began their mission of slapping the Dusty Persona city shark stickers near the intersection of Wylie and Estoria streets. When determining exactly where to slap their stickers, children had to consider several factors, including but not limited to: the adhesive quality of the surface they identified, respecting already existing art, and thinking about the perspective of the sticker location. A renewed interest in “revisiting” previous field trips emerged as children expressed great desire to go back to the tunnel to see if their sticker was still in the location where they placed it.

Ms. Atwell, in an effort to continuously elevate and expand the children’s ongoing research, continued to make contact with several local artists whose work was featured on the art-walk field trips.  Many of the artists have shared stickers with the GPCP children and two artists in the free art community (Jolly Bomb and All The Love ATL) led additional sticker-slapping field trips to the Krog Street tunnel and supplied their own stickers for the children.

Inside the classroom, children explored the concept of creating a signature tag of their own, as well as participating in a mixed-media interpretation of the Forward Warrior murals.  Finally, inspired by all the street art research this year, the children of the Frogs class planned and designed a three-tiered shadow box representing their interests and experiences studying the public art that adorns their Cabbagetown neighborhood. Tier 1 represents the Eastside Beltline Trail featuring the children’s own artwork imagined as public murals. Tier 2 offers a look into the Wylie Street “train yard window” complete with a graffiti train featuring the children’s tags surrounding the Dusty Persona City Shark in the center. Tier 3 includes iconic representations of the Cabbagetown neighborhood, including a polaroid photo of the Krog Tunnel Tiny Door with the Atlanta skyline in the background.

The public art research focus in the Frogs multi-age class this year has revealed many different concepts surrounding community. Throughout the year, educators have nurtured and explored various threads of interest the children have expressed regarding street art in an effort to foster creativity, critical thinking, and collaboration, as well as a strong sense of belonging to and responsibility for our communities.

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