Beyond Bricks and Mortar: A Look at Public Artwork in Dallas ISD’s New Schools
With a substantial number of the bond program’s construction projects now completed or nearing completion and virtually all new schools dedicated, it’s clear to see that the building program not only focused on providing the basics for instruction, but also paid attention to aesthetic touches.
While some may view these murals and art displays as non-essential elements, viewed another way, it’s clear that they speak to the spirit of learning and might be considered just as important to education as chalkboards and desks. Whether it’s the school’s mascot rendered in mosaic tile or a larger than life mural that serves as a tribute to a community leader, the artwork symbolizes a sense of pride and inspires creativity among students and staff alike. In fact, the artwork in several schools promises to become a focal point for the school and part of its history.
At Adamson High School, four bas-relief cast stone sculpture panels welcome all who enter the school lobby. Titled “Adamson Vision,” the four 4 x 10 ft. reliefs, created by Dallas artist Art Garcia, portray the school’s mascot, proud graduates, heroic athletes and members of the military. Upstairs in the school library, Garcia’s 16 x 18 ft. mural titled “Bridge Generations” showcases school alumni who have become leaders in government, military, business, and the arts. For years to come, images of leaders such as lawmaker Jim Wright, military leader General Charles Cabell and philanthropist Bill Lively will serve as inspiration to Adamson students.
Garcia says communication is a key factor in what he calls his integrated environmental art. “My approach places equal emphasis on research and creativity to develop iconic installations that are both memorable and specific to a structure’s environment and its community.” He credits alumni participation as instrumental in inspiring his artistic creations.
At George Herbert Walker Bush Elementary School, it was the students’ curiosity that inspired the artwork created to adorn the school walls. The hallways near the entrance feature a colorful Discovery Wall created by Carrie Houston, Creative Director/Principal at Houston Designs. The bilingual mural featuring silhouettes of children transports children on a journey of learning. Basic curriculum elements are reflected in the vibrant images, from food and nutrition facts near the cafeteria to the Discovery Tree of Knowledge near the library. This storybook-inspired design reinforces for students the joy and importance of learning as they move between classrooms. “We wanted to really get the children involved in the story,” said Houston, “We observed and studied the children to see what strikes their curiosity, and as a result, incorporated a lot of movement within the mural.”
There are also pieces of public art that honor community leaders that have impacted the Dallas community. At Zan Wesley Holmes Jr. Middle School, a 40 ft. x 65 ft. vinyl mural of the iconic spiritual and community leader speaks to Rev. Holmes’ larger than life record of advocacy for civil rights. The mural is accompanied by quotations that reflect Holmes’ wisdom. “We wanted to integrate the mural into the overall school design,” said Patrick Glenn, Principal at Perkins and Will Architects. “The photo is as classic as it is timeless. It presents a younger Holmes that relates with the students. And his quotes add a touch of inspiration.”
At Balch Springs Middle School, a mural above the auditorium entrance illustrates the different paths students can follow into the arts. “The visual arts are as much an essential part of education as books and computers,” said Robert Whittaker, Project Manager at GSR Andrade Architects, “It serves to develop the creative part of the student.” Whittaker explains that the arts allow students opportunities to achieve on such all-important fronts self-worth, creativity and self-expression.
Another unique work of art can be found just outside the Ann Richards Middle School’s cafeteria, where a large brass sundial is embedded into the concrete in the center of the courtyard on the building’s north side. Created by PBK Architects of Dallas, the sundial was “the appropriate piece for this specific location and served as a learning opportunity for the kids,” said Project Manager David Mogray.
The design and art professionals who created the artwork displayed in Dallas’ new schools hope their work not only provokes a sense of pride and creativity in students, but also engages and challenges them to dream that they, too, can make a lasting impression on their school and community through education.