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Depicting diversity

Harding Academy art club creates Head Start mural

By Tammy Keith

This article was published June 10, 2018 at 12:00 a.m.

standing-in-front-of-the-new-mural-at-the-searcy-head-start-center-are-director-alicia-cherry-from-left-and-harding-academy-art-club-students-carissa-smith-and-emma-steil-seniors-and-mason-laferney-and-kathryn-wilkins-both-of-whom-graduated-this-year-and-maggie-lake-art-teacher-at-harding-academy-laferney-submitted-the-winning-design-that-art-club-members-painted-the-head-start-staff-is-now-looking-for-volunteers-to-donate-paint-sprayers-and-their-time-to-paint-the-rest-of-the-building-at-610-moss-st

Standing in front of the new mural at the Searcy Head Start Center are Director Alicia Cherry, from left, and Harding Academy Art Club students Carissa Smith and Emma Steil, seniors, and Mason LaFerney and Kathryn Wilkins, both of whom graduated this year; and Maggie Lake, art teacher at Harding Academy. LaFerney submitted the winning design that Art Club members painted. The Head Start staff is now looking for volunteers to donate paint sprayers and their time to paint the rest of the building at 610 Moss St.

— Searcy Head Start employees wanted a way to make the building get noticed; the Harding Academy Art Club wanted a community project.

They both got what they wanted with the just-finished product, an eye-popping mural on the side of the Head Start facility.

Painted in primary colors, the mural depicts children under the canopy of a large tree. The children, of all skin colors, are shown hula-hooping, jump-roping, reading and playing ball, including one child in a wheelchair.

Moorer said the mural is interactive, too, and has chalk paint on it where children can draw. The winning design was drawn by Mason LaFerney, Art Club vice president, who graduated in May.

Alicia Cherry, director of the Searcy Head Start Center, said the program is one of 17 under the Community Action Program of Central Arkansas. The Searcy center serves 55 low-income students ages 3 and 4.

“Some people don’t even know we still exist and that our program still exists in this building,” Cherry said. “People don’t know we’re here. They say, ‘Where are you located?’”

She and Cheryl Moorer, family advocate, got the idea to paint a mural on the building at 610 Moss St.

“We got permission from the mayor to paint our building. We were looking for people to help,” she said. “We wanted something that would reflect all the cultures and all the aspects of life in Searcy and just the children playing.”

Maggie Lake, first-year art teacher at Harding Academy, said her high school students were the driving force behind the project.

“When I got this group of students in the Art Club, they just really emphasized that they wanted to work in the community, and they didn’t know how. We did some face-painting for a foster-care Halloween carnival,” she said.

When Moorer contacted Lake about the Head Start mural, “[the students] were super excited about it,” Lake said

Cherry said she and Moorer collaborated with the Art Club students to come up with scenes for the mural.

“They drew up three different ideas for us after speaking with us, Cheryl and me,” Cherry said. The teachers, Cherry, Moorer and a former family advocate, Desihrea Williams, voted on the mural.

“One [design] was kind of more of what you’d see in a toddler-infant room; one was just more colorful; and then we had the one we actually liked the best, more modern and culturally appealing, something you don’t see every day in Searcy,” Cherry said.

LaFerney said he was excited that his design was chosen.

“I’ve always wanted to design a mural and get to paint it, but I never really expected it to happen,” he said.

He said he’d never heard of Head Start before the mural project, but “as soon as they told us about it, it seemed really cool.

“One thing about Head Start is they help serve a very diverse group, and they reach out to and help a lot of different people. They wanted the diversity represented, so I made sure to make plenty of people from different backgrounds.

“The people at Head Start specifically requested for the mural to have some representation of the children in it, and they also requested for some sort of interaction the children could have with the mural,” such as pointing out shapes or colors.

“For the interaction, I designed a pattern of three shapes — a circle, triangle and square — at the bottom of the mural. The reason I did a pattern is patterns are one thing kids have to learn in school,” so LaFerney said he figured, “Why not start through the mural?”

Also, the Head Start staff asked him to put chalkboard paint on a portion of the mural for the children to draw on when they return to school in the fall.

“I’m a big advocate of kids drawing and doing art themselves,” LaFerney said.

Cherry said the Harding Academy students started working after spring break in mid-March, and the Searcy Fire Department donated a hose for a pressure washer so the students could prepare the wall.

The Art Club donated paint, supplies and everything else, Lake said, which the students conducted fundraisers to buy. She said 10 students worked about 200 hours on the project.

Cherry said she was impressed with their work ethic. She said the students worked on the mural after school, and even after they graduated, they’d show up by 11 a.m. or noon every day to paint.

“They worked extremely hard,” she said.

Lake said no one worked harder than Jacob Vick, president of the Art Club, who also graduated in May.

Vick said painting the mural was a satisfying project for many reasons.

“I absolutely loved the experience,” he said. “I’ve always wanted the opportunity to help create a public piece of art, and being able to positively impact a local program like Head Start through that art makes it all the more special.”

Vick said his favorite part was the relationships he built with the women at Head Start, as well as with other members of the community.

“I think it made a very positive impact on the facility,” he said. “We were able to give a source of exposure to the program while brightening the facility with a piece of art that attempts to reflect the positive impact the program has on the children it serves every year.”

Lake said it was exciting to see members of the community drive by, some of whom would take photos and post them on Facebook, which garnered lots of positive comments.

Cherry said the children enjoyed watching the progress on the mural.

“The kids enjoyed saying, ‘Oh, that looks like me.’ It resonated with them,” she said.

Lake said she is proud of her students. “I am incredibly impressed. [The mural] looks very sophisticated, coming from high school students, and looks very professional.”

Cherry agreed.

“I think they did a great job. I think it’s done a lot for our center. I’m hoping it will just help us with our rapport with the community and enlighten some of our families who were here,” she said. “I think it brings culture to our building. I think it beautifies the building, but I also think it helps people notice our building in a way they haven’t before. It allows people to see us in a way they haven’t before.”

And as she was talking, someone drove up to the building. She and Moorer laughed. They’d been found.

Senior writer Tammy Keith can be reached at (501) 327-0370 or tkeith@arkansasonline.com.

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