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Arts For Learning mural takes on deeper meaning

It started out like any other project for Christi Zeibarth.

But it turned into something much more impactful in light of COVID-19.

The former longtime teacher was commissioned pre-pandemic to produce a 32-foot mural at Coulston Elementary inspired by students’ sketches as part of the Arts For Learning program. The Indianapolis-based organization has created artwork that remains displayed in other schools in Shelby County including at Hendricks Elementary and Southwestern Elementary.

Since the mural was originally scheduled to be installed at the end of last school year, when COVID-19 hit, Coulston had to hit the brakes.

So when staff members at both Coulston and Arts For Learning were finally able to install it on Tuesday, it took on a new meaning for Zeibarth, who previously taught for 15 years before joining the arts organization.

“They were right there with me, they were so excited about the installation,” she said. “That really is the spirit of togetherness that we’re all supposed to be absorbing right now. By the time came it came to fruition, the excitement level came to a peak. I think we’re all just appreciating it more than we would have.”

Zeibarth’s creation was inspired by sketches and poems submitted by students, who worked with poet Bonnie Maurer.

The theme was inclusion and kindness, but what caught Zeibarth’s attention was something else: motion.

In student’s art, she noticed motion equaled happiness and positivity. And that’s where she found her inspiration.

Some of the submissions showed kites flying. Others had children on bicycles, she said.

“There was just a lot of action and motion that students seem to associate with joy and moving forward,” she said, noting that the submissions arrived pre-pandemic. “There was no ulterior motive. This is what children naturally find inspirational.”

She took those drawings from a wide variety of ages and created a collage, that she then turned into two prototypes.

The student body voted on the two prototypes last school year before the move to virtual learning.

The final product was supposed to be installed in April, but when COVID-19 hit, it no longer became possible to have a school-wide celebration.

Ploi Pagdalian, senior director of programs at Arts For Learning, said once the virus arrived, everyone involved in the project was very decisive in what to do. She said it was easy as project manager because of how well they responded.

Coulston art teacher Rhonda Quellhorst admitted she was a little frustrated that the installation needed to be delayed in April.

“We didn’t want to lose the momentum,” she said, adding that the students had already voted on the the two prototypes. “The kids were very excited about that. They were really looking forward to the installation. Then COVID hit.”

Some of the students forgot about it when they returned this month, she admitted, but others wanted to know immediately when it would be installed.

While the piece is inspired by what students came up with, some of it is actually their artwork.

“It was very exciting that Christi was able to translate the students’ work into professional work,” Pagdalian said.

Quellhorst agreed that under the circumstances, the art piece took on a different meaning than if it had been installed four months ago.

She said the voting process helped create a spirit of community with the art piece.

“We’re all in this together even though we were voting on two different prototypes,” she said. “They were all in it together. The fact that a lot of their artwork is represented in the installation itself, even if they don’t see particularly one of theirs, they see their friend’s. I think it has drawn us together through the whole process.”


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