The following post is from an area high school student, Lucy Newman, who worked with The Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy to lead a group of high school students in learning about the local environment.
Last summer, I led a group of ten Pittsburgh high schoolers to paint a mural to answer an important question: What would Pittsburgh’s landscapes and communities look like if they were part of a healthy ecosystem?
The idea to paint a mural came to me while I was working at Sylvania Natives, a nursery that sells plants native to Pittsburgh. Kathy McGregor, the owner of the nursery, told me that I could create an internship project for myself.
I like art, so I challenged myself to think of an artistic project about native plants. As I was walking home, I passed the five blank garage doors that are part of the nursery’s property. The idea struck me — I could paint them!
Two problems came to mind: it takes a long time to paint that much area (I’m a slow worker), and the cost of paint was too much for our small budget. I came up with the perfect solution to make this happen.
Why not turn this into a community effort and apply for a grant?
With lots of help from Kathy and Ms. Hetrick, my art teacher, the project evolved into a workshop. During the workshop, high school students learned about ecology and infrastructure and worked on designing the mural.
“What would Pittsburgh’s landscapes and communities look like if they were part of a healthy, functioning ecosystem?”
The question led the project. We talked to various environmental organizations, including The Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy, Tree Pittsburgh, the Clean River Campaign, Sierra Club Allegheny Group, and Sylvania Natives about our project. They gave us their take on the most important components of a healthy ecosystem. We discussed biodiversity, green infrastructure, and energy sources, among other topics. We assessed issues from multiple perspectives — the community, politics, and economic issues as well as the environment.
Next, we used these ideas to create sketches. We split off into pairs, with each pair tackling one of the five garage doors. Working together on this was really fun, and each group had a good deal of artistic talent. Talented local artists, like Silvija Singh, Karen Coyne, and Maria Harrington, also lent a hand. They helped us think about color, lines, unity and continuity. I was amazed that by the end of the second day each group had come up with great designs. Everyone had a unique take on the question, and was able portray their ideas in a way that looked awesome.
The last three days of the week, we painted. Supplies were donated through The Sprout Fund’s Hive Fund for Connected Learning. After outlining, we began filling in details, adding swirls of white in the blue water of a river, drawing veins onto leaves.
A week later, the mural was finished and we had all become great friends. And before we knew it, we were done! We had analyzed the question considering environmental, social, political, and economic aspects, and we had created a finished mural that depicted our answers. We had just designed a healthier, more sustainable future. And it was so fun, too!