By Abbie Bowker, cvu graphic design teacher

Last fall, Laurie Thompson from the Charlotte Trails Committee contacted me about doing a mural in the underpass beneath Route 7 in the section of the Town Link Trail between Mt. Philo State Park and the Charlotte Berry Farm. At that time we were just starting to understand what the realities of a school year under COVID-19 restrictions would look like, including different cohort groups, physical distancing, and even if field trips would be possible at all during this time. Let’s just say the task seemed daunting, at best! After consulting with my department colleagues, we decided it would be best to delay the work to the spring semester when, even if the restrictions were the same, we would be feeling more confident and comfortable working within the new guidelines. The spring semester saw a changeover of students, and I would not have any painting classes. That is where my colleague Emily McLean stepped up and said she and her AP Art & Design students would take over the project.

Emily had a series of virtual meetings with Laurie to determine the specifications of the project. And then, as the temperatures rose and the days for painting were arriving soon, it became apparent that the AP students were running out of time to make the design. Their AP portfolios were coming due at just about the same moment as a design would need to be created for the project timeline. Without a design, the project would stall and there would not have been enough time to paint it. That is where I stepped up and said my Graphic Design class would create mockups of designs to share out with her AP class to select a work (or works) for the Trails Committee approval.

My graphic design students were thrilled to have a real-world design challenge, and the opportunity for their design to be selected and actually painted on the mural! They set off to work, and while there were a number of great options, the AP students were looking for designs that resonated with the design brief from the Trails Committee and would be achievable during a short time of painting. The chosen design was by student Emma Allaire who had a few more modifications to make as part of the design iterative process, but turned out to be an excellent choice fully endorsed by the Trails Committee.

Emily took charge again and, working together with department colleague Jason Fearon and myself, selected and ordered the paint and supplies, created the templates to ease and speed up the sketching process, and went on-site to prepare the walls for the first round of painting. There were a lot of logistics to consider above and beyond a “typical field trip” and Emily did an outstanding job organizing and orchestrating it all. When the first field trip of AP students arrived, they were greeted by a rainbow of paint colors, a sketched out design and all the materials they needed to work as a team to paint the first phase. Honestly, we weren’t sure it would be possible to get through the first phase on day one. We were deeply worried that even after two days of work, we still wouldn’t be done with phase one! Our students were AMAZING and worked together  with expert skill to complete the first phase… we were so relieved and proud! The second day required a little more pre-painting prep that we had the students complete with us, sketching out the second phase prior to painting. We ALMOST finished phase two! We have a third “field trip” planned with just the art teachers to put in the finishing touches next week.

I think that those two days of painting were my favorite days of the year. It was magical! Everyone was working together on a common goal, laughing and chatting, and having a blast. Emily was their teacher this year, but Jason and I had the pleasure of being their teachers in previous courses, so it was a bit of a reunion. Being in the strange schedule, I hadn’t really seen many of them very much, so it was a real treat. Most were seniors, so it was like a swan song send-off. A perfect end to their years as art students.