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Public Murals by Local High School Students Unveiled in Oak Cliff

By Catherine Cuellar, KERA 90.1 Reporter

Public Murals by Local High School Students Unveiled in Oak Cliff

Dallas, TX –

Catherine Cuellar, 90.1 reporter: In an Oak Cliff neighborhood southwest of downtown, a vacant building has been donated for use as studio space for budding local artists. Jesus Alvarado, who runs the Ice House Cultural Center, arrives on a hot early June morning to crank up A/C window units as high school students arrive to work. Luz Carmen Avenda o, a student at Arts Magnet, sits at the computer.

Luz Carmen Avenda o: This past week we've been working with Photoshop on the computer, learning how to incorporate, kinda like everybody's drawings into one piece.

Cuellar: Also at the monitor is Gabriel Wolpek of Lake Highlands High School. He was drawn to the opportunity for several reasons.

Wolpek: I'd describe the project as a group that's meant to help bring out the good side of Oak Cliff, good side of the neighborhood and to bring youth together to help them like learn more about the artistic skills, and gather experience, and like get a little cash on the side.

Cuellar: Thirteen student artists were selected by staff from the Dallas Museum of Art and the city's Office of Cultural Affairs. After a couple of weeks learning how to use software and practice painting in the studio on small canvasses, the students split into three groups and started working on their pieces, supervised by professional muralists. It's the end of June and students are sketching their final projects. Butcher paper covers one wall inside the studio. The students have a transparency of their scene on an overhead projector and are drawing an outline of the enlarged image.

Kim Hang Yun: It's not going to be real detailed it's just going to be a vague, impressionistic look.

Cuellar: Lead artist Kim Hang Yun gives the students direction

Kim: So this could be full

Cuellar: In July, they start working on transferring their designs to the sides of buildings in the Bishop Arts District. One of the team leaders, Jesus Alvarado, explains their design choices.

Jesus Alvarado, Ice House Cultural Center: One of the things that the Bishop Arts wanted to do was keep the history of Oak Cliff alive. One is of an old gas station that's historic. Another is an allegory to the Bishop Arts you know how the bishop arts started, you know the artists in the studio and the developers come in. the last one has been sponsored by Methodist hospital and it's about Methodist's significance to the community.

Cuellar: Joshua Watson is a senior at Duncanville High School. He is working on a scaffold in front of the wall they will transform.

Joshua Watson: We just got finished pouncing which is like there's a pen through which she pokes a whole bunch of little holes inside the paper. We just trace the lines Then we take this, this is charcoal, and pat it down and it comes through the outside of the holes. You'll see it. And then I take paint and outline the lines that are there.

Cuellar: This is Josh's second year in the program. He contrasts his team's work under Kim's leadership to his experience with Jesus last summer.

Watson: Kim she paints differently, it's like a whole different style to how she paints more than how Jesus paints, like she made us watch it first and go over the colors and get all the color scheme down right and like just paint a light wash over it and then we go back and reapply the paint in thicker, in layers. Jesus didn't do that, he was just like paint, and we'd just paint.

Cuellar: One mural creates the illusion of a storefront window, tricking the eye with what looks like sale items on display, and a man apparently standing in the doorway. Its perspective is deceptive, and the color palette is vibrant. Across the street a scene shows tenants hanging laundry out of windows, overlooking people drinking coffee and reading the newspaper at sidewalk tables outside a flower shop. That mural is on the side of the Ifs, Ands and Butts soda pop and tobacco shop, where owner Hamilton Rousseau works and lives.

Hamilton Rousseau: The murals that the students have done in association with the Ice House and the DMA have returned the district to its true origins. It was an arts district because the lofts were occupied by artists at one time or another. I don't know of anywhere that has as much approved art on the walls of the district itself. You can stroll the streets and see these incredible murals that are not only works of art but depict our history.

Cuellar: The students worked 12 weeks in all, wrapping up their regularly scheduled teamwork at the end of August. For artists like Oak Cliff native Milan Nguyen, who is starting her first year at the Otis School of Design in Los Angeles, the project will have lasting impact.

Nguyen: I think that public art is important in that it's a way of getting people involved in art who really wouldn't notice it otherwise. You know I'll be off in a few years and getting to work on projects like this, it's just like leaving my mark on my community, it's like remembering, leaving something so people know I was here.

Cuellar: The paint is dry and the pieces were sealed this week. The murals will be unveiled tomorrow at 6pm during the third annual Bishop Arts District block party and car show. For KERA 90.1, I'm Catherine Cuellar.

Email Catherine Cuellar about this story.