COURTESY MASHA GONCHAROVA ARTISTIC ENGAGEMENT Masha Goncharova (COL ’14) and Michelle Stearn (SFS ’15) teach students about art and gather ideas for their mural project.
COURTESY MASHA GONCHAROVA ARTISTIC ENGAGEMENT Masha Goncharova (COL ’14) and Michelle Stearn (SFS ’15) teach students about art and gather ideas for their mural project. COURTESY MASHA GONCHAROVA
ARTISTIC ENGAGEMENT Masha Goncharova (COL ’14) and Michelle Stearn (SFS ’15) teach students about art and gather ideas for their mural project.

With so many museums, landmarks and memorials at their fingertips, artists can certainly find inspiration in Washington D.C. From photographs of the Capitol steps in the winter to landscape paintings of the sunrise over the Potomac, art captures the beauty of this city and the eye of viewers. And while some of these artists like to work in private, others enjoy interacting with others and look to their community to act as a muse. The only art club on campus, the Georgetown University Art Aficionados strives to do just that by fostering art appreciation and creating projects for interested students. Sponsoring events like outings to local museums, photo weeks and panel discussions on painters and exhibits, GUAA has just started its own kind of community outreach program. Inspired by an idea of member Masha Goncharova (COL ’14), a former staff writer for The Hoya, the organization decided to assist students from grades one through eight at Sacred Heart Bilingual Catholic School in painting a mural on their playground.

Goncharova, who interacts with the school for the community-based learning component of her “Reading, Teaching, Social Reflection” class, decided to channel her volunteer efforts into an art project after noticing that the children’s playground, essentially a parking lot, had a bare wall leading up to the school entrance.

“We’ve done minor outreaches, but this has been much more hands-on, and much more of a commitment,” said GUAA President Stephanie Jasson (COL ’14). “It took over a month to plan and execute, [and] it was the first of many to come, hopefully.”

After clearing the project with the school administration, a group of GUAA board members travelled to the school Nov. 16 to talk with the first grade students about their perceptions of art and how they wanted those ideas translated into the mural.

The lesson plan consisted of three steps: decision, organization and execution. Board members likeGoncharova and Michelle Stearn (SFS ’15) showed the students PowerPoint slides of various paintings to provoke artistic reflections that would then be used in planning the mural.

“I would show a slide and ask them what they thought about and their reactions,” Stearn said. “All I had to ask was ‘What do you like about this?’ and they would all raise their hands like, ‘Pick me, pick me.’”

Stearn explained that it was hard for her to believe at times that the students were only six years old and had such a good grasp of complex subjects.

In the end, the children expressed that themes like the city versus nature, a dove representing peace, their school symbol and the earth should be incorporated into the final project.

GUAA board members purchased all the materials and supplies using their club budget.  Theytravelled to the school over the course of a few weekends to clean, prepare the surface for painting, design, grid and color block the wall in order to prepare it for the students to paint.

“[This preparation] was really good because the school’s participation was really just the kids. There was no downside for them, so they were really enthusiastic on all fronts but also because we were supplying the materials for the project,” Jasson said.

On the final day of the project, the board members worked in shifts as each grade level came out to paint their part of the mural.

“They absolutely loved it.  The kids were just so excited. They would pretty much do anything just to be involved in the process,” GUAA board member Michelle Yaw (COL ’15) said.

At times, however, the Georgetown students found the enthusiasm a little overwhelming.

“By the middle of the day I think we had like 20 kids at once and we only had five brushes,” Stearn commented. “And, of course, all of them wanted to paint the bright colors. None of them wanted to paint the white.”

Because of the nature of the project and the time commitment involved in preparing the wall, only GUAA board members were able to get involved rather than the entire group.

“We embarked on this massive project knowing we had to do it in a short period of time because we were only designated one day to work with the kids officially,” Yaw said. “In a sense, we would have liked a lot more general body participation. … The thing about GUAA’s structure is that the board is the main group of people who organizes things and the rest of the members are on the Listserv, and it’s a very low-commitment type of thing.”

Nonetheless, the school’s parents, students and teachers expressed genuine appreciation for GUAA’s help in making their parking lot playground a happier, brighter place.

“They all seemed really grateful, which surprised me because it didn’t really take that much effort on our part.  Of course we wanted to do it but … I guess that the little effort translates into a lasting impression,” Stearn said.   “Hopefully, if we do this right it will last, I don’t know, maybe ten years?  That would be enough for me.”

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