For the past few years, artist Ethan Azarian has been working to create murals on the exterior walls of Austin schools. This year, he’s been creating a piece just outside the entrance to Travis Heights Elementary School. For this work, as is always the case with his school murals, Azarian is collaborating with the school’s students.
“This is my fourth year doing schools, and going out into the community, finding a school and working with the students and the art teacher and some of the other administrators,” Azarian says. “I’m doing one a year, and I get funding from the city to go and make these murals happen. And the murals are site-specific. It’s all to do with the school and the neighborhood and the history of the school and that neighborhood. So it’s collaborative. And then whatever the kids – the kids really have free reign. If some kid want to paint their pet giraffe, we can do that, along side somebody who’s important.
“The fist day consists of all the kids out there with black paint, kind of sketching wildly,” Azarian says. “It’s kind of planned, but the whole beauty of it is that it’s not very planned. Then I kind of work backwards. I kind of go back [and] with the kids, figure out where we want to put things. And anything we don’t like we just paint out and we paint over. That’s the process. Just getting this mural sketched out really quickly and then it all changes and kind of takes on a life of its own.”
One of the concepts that came from the students was the idea of incorporating the flags of many nations, each representing the home country of a student, a parent, or a staff member of Travis Heights Elementary. At last count, there were eleven flags in the mural, with more likely on the way.
“As we’re working on the flags, kids will literally go by and go ‘hey, that’s my flag!’ or ‘hey, what about Colombia?’ or ‘when can we put my flag on the wall?’” Azarian says. “And even with some of the grownups – somebody walked by and was like ‘what about Aruba?’ And we actually are going to go and put an Aruban flag. I think it’s Aruba. I think it’s such a great idea, and I wouldn’t have necessarily had that idea.”
Azarian’s proud of the mural and the work the students have put into it, but he doesn’t expect or hope that it’ll last forever. “Maybe in twenty or thirty years, some other students will paint over it,” he says. “That’s the nice thing about outdoor art – it’s really not forever. And I don’t think it should be. It’s really nice that somebody’s gonna come along and paint [over] it or tear it down. So you can’t get too precious about it, and that’s freeing. The thing is, just get some paint on the wall. And then, you know, eventually somebody else will come and throw some paint on the wall.”