Looking Up, Figuratively and Literally, at Wright Elementary

Students install their artwork in the ceiling at Wright Elementary School.

Things are looking up these days at Wright Elementary School, both figuratively and now literally, after the installation of a student-created mural this morning that represents the capstone of “Big Arts Week” at the school.

Okay, the drop ceiling in the front hallway isn’t the Sistine Chapel and art teacher Amy  Beumer and her protégés aren’t Michelangelo. Still, the Keith Haring-inspired mural that all of the Wright students had a hand in painting on nine ceiling panels is attention-getting. That was clear as soon as it was up and processions of kids going from classrooms to lunch came through craning their necks for closer looks as they passed beneath the fresh masterpiece. Haring is a famed artist, by the way, one of whose works is part of the Pappajohn Sculpture Park in the Western Gateway downtown (the untitled piece informally known as “Dancing Figures” that depicts generic children shapes in red, yellow and blue).

“Hey, I did that part!” one pint-sized Picasso said, pointing proudly at the corner panel depicting an assortment of multiplication symbols.

The installation was accomplished by a squad of 5th graders who started at Wright as kindergartners. The over-arching theme of all the art going on at Wright this year, and there’s a lot of it, is legacy. That’s in keeping with Wright’s designation as the district’s Artful Learning Legacy school. Artful Learning is a concept that redesigns school curricula by integrating the arts and the artistic process into the daily classroom experience, an emphasis that makes Beumer (pronounced Beemer), who’s in her first year at Wright, beam.

“At Wright, classes like art and music are called ‘essentials,’ she explains, “not extras or specials.”

Why did this piece go in the ceiling?

“Well, we’re running out of wall space,” said Principal Lindsey Cornwell. She’s got a point. The corridors are galleries with lockers. And outside of each classroom hangs a small square canvas done by the teacher that represents their particular take on the legacy theme. The other factor in Cornwell’s decision to deck the ceiling was a nod to one of her mentors, the late DMPS career educator Tina Jensen. “I remembered Tina telling me when she was sick that we should paint the walls, paint the ceilings – paint everything!”

Besides Beumer the students at Wright get plenty of outside input on their output. The school has an adjunct rotating staff of artists-in-residence that includes storytellers, playwrights, dancers, even Mary Chind, the Des Moines Register’s Pulitzer Prize-winning photographer.

The latest addition to the Wright portfolio bears a date but there wasn’t room for all of the contributing artists to sign the work. As for a title for the piece, Cornwell and Beumer agreed that they’ll find a way to address that after a period of reflection now that it’s in place.

So what’s next? Cornwell thinks the half-dozen new wood benches that she recently acquired could use some finishing touches to further liven up the hallways. But what she really has in mind is a sculpture for the school grounds since the interior display space is nearly maxed out.

The Pappajohn Park has become a popular spot for DMPS high school students to pose on special occasions like Homecoming or even for their senior pictures. Given the legacy theme at Wright it’s not hard to imagine current students returning in years to come to get theirs snapped in a mini-sculpture park on the campus of their elementary alma mater, the place where they all will have left marks as indelible as the ones this artsy place will leave on them.

Photos of Wright’s Art Installation

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