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Student creativity fostered at William Kelley School

Over 240 students in grades K-8 have contributed to the creation of a mosaic diptych that, when complete, will be on permanent display at William Kelley School in Silver Bay. Photo by Tammy Francois.1 / 2
Mary Ajala of the Northern Lake County Arts Board works with sixth grade students and artist Kelly Dupre on a tile mosaic mural at William Kelley School. The NLCAB engages local artists to bring unique arts opportunities to the communities of the North Shore. Photo by Tammy Francois.2 / 2

Throughout the hallways of William Kelley School, there is evidence of creative minds and hands at work. Paper sculptures and drawings line the walls and a mural has been painted in a stairwell. On the first floor, students practice for an upcoming band concert, and on the second, amid the buzz of chatter, another work of art is in progress.

Inside the classroom, sixth-grade students and adult volunteers stand elbow to elbow around two long tables polishing small squares of brightly colored tile affixed to plywood. The project is a mosaic diptych and it's just the latest in a series of arts enrichment opportunities made possible through a collaboration between the Northern Lake County Arts Board, the Lloyd K. Johnson Fund, Kelley School and northern Minnesota artists. As pairs and small groups of kids work on the mosaic nearby, NLCAB Chairperson, Mary Ajala recounts some of the other activities made available to the students through her organization's efforts.

"The Minnesota Ballet came in the fall and the Duluth-Superior Symphony Orchestra was here. The kids learned about dance and they made their own instruments and played them on stage," she said. "We try to do about six programs per year." The programming is intended to expose students to art forms they might not have considered.

"It's been gratified to see student participation and enthusiasm grow along with the program. The kids have been just great," Ajala said.

The NLCAB started as a small group of artists and formally became a non-profit organization in 2007 with the mission of bringing arts and cultural opportunities to the communities of the North Shore, said Ajala, "and we just keep growing and growing."

She had high praise for the group's volunteers who give their time and talent to keep art alive in schools.

"We have awesome volunteers," she said with a smile, nodding toward the many adults who circulated among the students.

In recent years, budget cuts in many schools have resulted in reduced funding for arts education, so while William Kelley High School is fortunate to have an art teacher for grades 7-12, art classes as most adults remember them, are no longer taught in the lower grades, "so we go to the classrooms," Ajala said.

About 240 students in grades K-8 have participated in the making of the two-panel mosaic mural. Artist, Kelly Dupre, whose public art is familiar to residents and visitors to Grand Marais, said she has guided the process, but the final product will reflect the kids' creativity. Dupre introduced the initial theme for the project - panels depicting the air, land and water environments in the region and the beings -finny, feathery, furry or flowery -- that inhabit them. The kids took it from there.

"They drew pictures of all the different animals and plants," said Dupre, who then combined elements of many drawings to arrive at the mosaic's design. The work is a riot of color and texture-- an imaginative interpretation of familiar northern Minnesota flora and fauna as seen through the eyes of kids.

With the polishing of the tile to remove grout residue, the project is nearing completion. The next step will be to paint to the mural's plywood background--shades of blue for the water and sky and sage green for the land -- and hang the pair of eight-foot panels on adjacent walls in the school for all to see and admire. The grand unveiling of the mural is scheduled for May 6.

"Hopefully, all the kids will be able to look at (the mosaic) and say 'oh, that's my frog leg or that's my bird beak!'" said Dupre.