On Thursday, May 26th, Charleston Mayor Joe Riley, Awendaw Mayor Sam Robinson, and McClellanville Mayor Rutledge Leland helped to unveil two murals created as part of the Rural Murals project at Lincoln Middle-High School. The event started at the Middle-High School and ended at the Arts Center with a steel drum band and a student art exhibition. Generous comments were made by all three Mayors and Dr. Commodore, the middle-high school principal. Our school and community could not ask for better advocates for the arts in education.
On May 2nd, 2011, I was honored to receive the Mary Whyte Art Educator Award which recognizes a high school visual art teacher in the Berkeley, Charleston, and Dorchester school districts who has demonstrated superior commitment to their students and to their craft. The recognition and support that have resulted from the Rural Murals Projects have inspired me to continue my work in public art to service both our community and educational institutions. I started the project because I wanted my students to feel a sense of belonging to a larger art community, to examine the artist’s role in society, and to consider a career in art to be a valid and significant contribution to the preservation of our culture. As their teacher, I feel it is my obligation to give students experiences that allow them to develop skills and conceptual understandings so they can compete with students who have access to more elaborate art programs. I also want them to realize that money, or rather the lack thereof, is not a valid excuse not to create. I always tell my students, “Artists are born to create and so we do so with whatever we have on hand, or we find a way to get it. Look back in history… artists reflect society, tell stories, and preserve culture. You must do your part.”
With just a dream and vision we embarked on what has become a significant experience for not only my students and me, but also the local and extended arts communities. I pitched the idea to my principal Dr. Yvonne Commodore, got approval from the district, made cold calls, collected materials, created lesson plans, and began learning with my students how to design a mosaic tile mural from our volunteer artist John Mark Gill. Our first mural took about 15 weeks and was unveiled May 16, 2010. Almost immediately we began planning a second mural for the school. In August, Ms. Bernadette Humphrey, director of the McClellanville Arts Center, asked me if we would consider painting an exterior mural on the Arts Center building in the center of town. My first thought was, “a free 600 square foot canvas!” More importantly though, I knew this project would bridge the school arts program with the community arts. I met with my students and we accepted the challenge. The mural design was created by Aaron Jenkins, Lincoln’s first AP Studio Art student. Together with Jessica Cash, Tichina Simmons, and Quentin McCormick, we attended both the McClellanville Town Council Board and Architectural Review Board meetings to present the designs for approval. The mural was painted by students, with the help and guidance of the volunteer artists.
This spring, we worked on two landscape murals simultaneously and did not spend a dime. We collected material donations worth almost $70,000—reinforcing the idea that the arts matter to our communities and that to find support all you have to do is ask. Artist volunteers and business partners contributed to the Rural Murals project. Business sponsors Mr. Mark Campbell of Ameri-Tile Mount Pleasant, Mr. Fred Dollop of Bonitz Tile Wando, and Lowes of Mount Pleasant donated all the materials for the murals. My business, Annie Purvis Studios, also sponsored a portion of the project. Mr. John Mark Gill was the lead mosaic tile artist and Mr. Dorian Padilla, LMHS Spanish teacher, and I served as volunteer artists. The Communities In Schools coordinator, Ms. Leondra Stoney, worked with me to publicize the unveiling and invite local officials to the event. Through this project, I believe we demonstrated that if an artist wants to do something there is no limit to what can be achieved. It is my hope that these children, their families, and the community have come to see how significant the arts are in our schools.
The Rural Murals Project met all six state and national art standards and integrated math, social studies, physical science. Based on artist interviews and on-site job experiences, students produced an authentic writing piece equivalent to senior projects prescribed by High Schools That Work literacy recommendations. We hope to publish the students’ papers along with the images of this project next year, and donate a copy to the McClellanville Library and the Arts Center. More significant to me is that my students know I have great confidence in them. I expect the best and they achieve it, every time!
After nine years teaching, I have realized that students in rural schools are at risk because they feel isolated and they require educational programs designed to meet their special needs. Arts education programs can meet learners on an individual level; elevating them, instilling confidence, and promoting self-directed learning. Educators are faced with limited funding for the arts, but can reach out and work within the local and extended arts community to provide opportunities that nurture and develop future artists and art appreciators. In my recent experience, our involvement with volunteers, business partners, and the local community brought out a deep appreciation for my students’ passion and creative expression. This project is exemplar of the arts impact in rural areas and I witnessed it heal, change perceptions, and teach tolerance and compassion in our community. I am passionate about what we have achieved and I feel honored that I have been able to work with such beautiful and talented individuals along the way. The quote “It takes a village” has never meant more to me than it does right now. I have seen first-hand a village come together and support the young artists of Lincoln Middle-High School and I am so grateful.
—Annie Purvis, Lincoln Middle-High School Art Teacher and 2011 winner of the Mary Whyte Art Educator Award
For more information regarding future rural mural plans please contact Annie Purvis at Lincoln Middle-High School via email Annie_Norman@charleston.k12.sc.us or (843) 887-3244. Lincoln Middle-High School Gifted & Talented Student Artists and first year AP Studio Art student artwork is on exhibit at the McClellanville Arts Center.