Express Yourself

Some 50 people -- mostly children and their parents -- sat expectantly in the meeting room at the Sojourners Neighborhood Center. The object of their interest was hidden under a sheet.

After a brief ceremony came the long-awaited moment -- the unveiling of the mural created by the children in the center's summer program. From under the sheet emerged tenements, trees, stars, a polka-dotted butterfly, balloons, and a saxophone playing a rainbow -- along with a variety of other objects painted in bold colors across huge sheets of plywood.

The mural was the perfect climax to the summer program, whose theme was "Express Yourself. " It began as an idea with program director Rob Soley, who learned of a grant in honor of a former art supervisor of DC public schools, available from Bethesda, Maryland's Trinity Presbyterian Church.

With the grant, the center hired artist Linda DeGraf to guide and implement the project. The children saw a video about making murals, visited other murals in the city, and practiced drawing shadow pictures of themselves in preparation.

They talked about art as something that emerges from each person's mind and heart, and decided to make a mural that was entirely their own creation. No Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. No Bart Simpson or Batman. They set out to create a collage of all their own ideas, based on their observations of life in the neighborhood of Columbia Heights. They decided unanimously that they wanted this to be an upbeat depiction of life in the neighborhood that is their home -- no car crashes, no drug deals, no guns.

They brainstormed a long list of ideas, and then each child drew their contribution on paper. They formed into teams of four, and each team fit their various drawings together and transferred them onto one panel of the mural. Then these panels were fit together to create the whole picture.

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