By Julie Ann Madden
Anyone who comes to Akron-Westfield Community School needs to check out the Music Hallway mural, which was designed and painted by high school students.
Both senior Olivia Parks and junior Ryleigh Schnell will tell people their favorite art class was Independent Study but for Olivia any A-W art class inspired her.
Her class was one of those which were affected by the school board’s decision to eliminate elementary and middle school art classes during budget cuts a few years back. (Editor’s Note: Now art is offered to Grades 1-12).
“My first art class was Art I (in high school),” said Olivia, who found her niche as she plans to study engineering at Iowa State University this fall. “I’ve always been interested in architecture because it includes engineering and art.”
“If I find out engineering is not my forte, then I’ll switch to something in the arts,” she told The Akron Hometowner.
Olivia designed the Music Hallway mural as part of an A-W art class commercial design project. She brainstormed for two years what she would create for the hallway as she entered and left the choir and band rooms. She plays trumpet in the band, along side Ryleigh who is also a trumpeter and plays French horn. While Ryleigh also participates in choir, Olivia was unable to fit choir into her schedule as it conflicted with A-W’s math classes’ schedule. Her last choir class was in middle school.
First, Olivia thought about drawing musicians on the 50 feet long by 8 feet tall wall but realized the concrete wall’s texture would make it too hard to paint musicians in detail.
She decided to incorporate musical instruments representing A-W’s instrumental music (band) program — there is an instrument from each band section: Brass, trumpet; Woodwinds, piccolo; Strings, violin; Percussion, drum; and with space still available, they added a saxophone. In addition, there are both bass and treble clef musical notes with a microphone symboling the school’s vocal music program.
During Christmas 2012’s school break, Olivia drew her ideas on paper and presented them to Grades 8-12 art teacher Robin Dirks, who was concerned about the time commitment such a large detailed mural would take.
“Music inspired me,” said Olivia. “Music is such a big part of my life. I thought I needed to show it through my art.”
Olivia was serious about wanting to do this mural and asked her friend, Ryleigh, to assist her.
“I needed a decent painter,” said Olivia.
“I did the solid colors,” laughed Ryleigh. “It was a lot of fun.”
The month of May 2013, Olivia sketched the mural on the wall, and June 1 last summer the girls began painting.
At first they started out painting five hours a day. Olivia would paint Mondays, Fridays and Saturdays. And, as soon as she finished her eight-hour shifts at the Sioux City Art Center on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays, she would come up to the school to paint.
Ryleigh was just as busy fitting time to paint around her A-W softball schedule.
Toward the end of the summer, the girls were painting 12 hours a day, often enjoying meals together in downtown Akron.
“It was something to look forward to,” said Ryleigh. “So relaxing.”
“It was calming even though it was stressful to me because I wanted it to look just like I thought,” said Olivia. “It turned out really well.”
So well, the two have ideas such as math, agriculture and sports murals in various hallways of the high school.
“Our school is so sports-based,” said Olivia. “I didn’t get touched by an art in my (young) life.”
“People always focus on the sports more,” added Ryleigh. “They tend to forget about the Fine Arts and how big of a part that plays in our society, too.”
“I feel like us taking on this big project, it will inspire younger kids to be more involved in arts than just focus on sports,” said Olivia. “There is so much artwork that could be done in the school.”
“It adds so much to the school,” said Ryleigh as both said they’d recommend other students take the challenge of such art projects. “You grow personally from it, too.”
They have no regrets even though they estimate they spent about 1,200 hours each on the mural.
“I just hope the mural impacts other people’s lives as much as it has mine,” said Olivia, “and that it’ll stay there for quite a few years rather than be thought ‘cool’ this year and forgotten next year.”
“We want future generations to still admire it every single time they walk by it,” said Ryleigh.
“And to be inspired themselves,” added Olivia.
“The mural was a huge project for the summer and I am very proud of the commitment from Ryleigh and Olivia,” said Dirks. “We put many hours into this painting!”
Other students who volunteered to paint a few hours are Nick Schnell, Lexi Hageman, Alex Franker and Erika Clark.
“The mural is something that everyone can enjoy and the students who worked on it can be proud of for many years ahead,” said Dirks. “I really enjoyed working along with the students and getting to know them better. We have a lot of talented students at A-W!”