In 2013, Forecast collaborated with educators at Gordon Parks High School (GPHS) to integrate public art into curriculum. You can read about how Forecast, teaching artist Peyton Scott Russell, and educators Ted Johnson and Tom Davies worked with students to amplify student voices into the neighborhood and community conversations about public space in our Case Study. We also worked closely with Paul Creager, Curriculum Coordinator at the school for eight years who is also working district wide, intentionally tying curriculum to community. Paul is heading off on a Fulbright with his family to India to continue to explore filmmaking with a social justice focus and we wanted to be sure to drop by before he left to reflect on the impact of the experiences after the fact.
Part of the impetus of the initiative was to create a dialogue about the possibilities of green, educational spaces surrounding the school. Currently backed by parking lots which are backed by interstate I-94, the school sits directly in front University Avenue, the recently transformed light rail corridor. Prior to the light rail going in, students and educators identified an opportunity to transform some of the parking lots into something called the Three Ring Garden.
Gordon Parks High School is an alternative learning center. Often these schools come with negative stereotypes about the students who attend and the effectiveness of the learning that takes place. At GPHS, this is simply not the case. The students there are stellar human beings. They have incredible voice ready to be expressed and creativity is bubbling up all over the place. The educators are creative in their approach to teaching and learning and they are constantly challenging conventional modes of thinking about how people learn.
The murals we created were mobile, developed as a tool for inciting conversation about Three Ring Garden and for telling the story of Gordon Parks High School to people outside the school walls.
Since the murals were created, the murals have incited conversation and been instrumental in furthering the dialogue about the potential space. In May 2014, Gil Penalosa visited St. Paul during the Riverfront Corporation’s Placemaking Residency. Knowing that Penalosa would be walking by the parking lots and school, students rolled the mobile mural out and shared their vision with Penalosa. Inspired by their thinking, Penalosa tweeted about the experience and generated a conversation amongst Saint Paul City leadership about the possibilities of the site.
Now nearly 2 years later, the city has purchased one of the three parcels of land behind the high school and is continuing the conversation about how to take ownership of the rest. All the while, the conversation with GPHS and the Three Ring Garden continues. It’s a slow growth to a dream, but they are slowly trudging along and keeping their eyes focused on the eventual prize.
My favorite part of this story is that students continue to be at the table. It’s an identified challenge for organizers to ensure they are planning community sessions in a way that allows students to attend and for the students to remain involved in projects where they might not see it come to fruition. But both parties are actively learning through the experience and acknowledging that for students to have continued voice in their shared public spaces, they have to be a part of the conversation regardless of the limitations of the academic year.”