College prep students gain creative confidence through public art

College prep students gain creative confidence through public art
A portion of the Sugar Hill Mosaic created by students of James Weldon Johnson Public Art Club

Members of the James Weldon Johnson College Preparatory Middle School Public Art Club put their creativity on public display in two community mosaic murals produced by former Avondale residents Kate and Kenny Rouh, of RouxArt. 

The opportunity began in 2018 when their art teacher, Amanda Holloway, found a grant that would enable them to work with RouxArt on a mosaic mural at Main Street Park downtown. 

“The design was created by JWJ students and executed by JWJ students over several Saturdays with the assistance and guidance of both Kate and Kenny Rouh, and me, of course!” said Holloway. 

Meera Sindhuvalli, James Weldon Johnson Public Art Club president, and Lily Milu, member
Meera Sindhuvalli, James Weldon Johnson Public Art Club president, and Lily Milu, member

“I am huge on involving my students in the community and getting them creating outside of the classroom so I knew right away that working with RouxArt would be a perfect pairing,” she said. “After completing the Main Street Park project with us, RouxArt saw how incredible our students are, and invited the JWJ artists into their home studio over the summer to help with the beginnings of the Sugar Hill Mosaic.”

The Sugar Hill Mosaic is the brainchild of and was funded by Groundwork Jacksonville. Alyssa Bourgoyne, a project manager at Groundwork Jacksonville, was instrumental in bringing the project to life. 

Jack Wheeler, vice president of James Weldon Johnson Public Art Club
Jack Wheeler, vice president of James Weldon Johnson Public Art Club

Students worked on several of the large-scale panels for the 120-foot mosaic mural using mortar, tiles, marbles, and mirrors to complete the scenes. There are eleven panels total, and they depict community members on bikes, and a tiled rendition of the city. One of the segments the JWJ art students worked on was the Jacksonville skyline with the Main Street bridge. The end result included a colorful “Starry Night”-inspired background in blues, with the moon and stars above.

Holloway’s art students include Julia Allen of Avondale, Jack and Anna Kate Wheeler of Ortega, and Lily Milu of Ortega Farms.

“Art at JWJ serves as a creative outlet for all the students. I think it helps us all to relate and take a little break from our school work,” said Wheeler, a sixth grader and vice president of James Weldon Johnson’s art association.

Holloway said involving JWJ students in public art projects nudges them outside of their comfort zones and into a creative confidence that they may not have found in the classroom or otherwise. 

“The type of students we have don’t tend to be the most naturally creative because they are the type that prioritize grades and scholarly achievement as opposed to their own unique expression and personal growth,” she said. “When the art club gets out in the community and works with different types of people on creative endeavors, I watch them grow into more well-rounded little humans just by default.”

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