The Academy of Art University and the Parent Teacher Guild of l are celebrating the unveiling of The Animal Race, a mural designed and created by students under the direction of the university’s School of Fine Art. The new mural is located on the campus of one of San Francisco’s oldest elementary schools.
On Dec. 18, 2014, students and staff from both institutions, accompanied by parents, neighbors and representatives of the media shared in a celebration of the work. The program included a blessing by Monsignor John Talesfore of the Cathedral of St. Mary of the Assumption, inspirational words from students and performances by the St. Brigid Choir and School of Rock program.
The colorful mural shows members of the animal kingdom moving at their various paces—from monkey to lion to owl. Student painters, under the guidance of Academy instructor Carol Nunnelly, began working on the first day of fall semester in September and completed the mural, which they can now proudly include in their art portfolio, on December 8. Scaffolding was donated by M.J. Butler, Inc.
The completed mural not only brightens the school’s play area, it serves to illustrate the school’s motto “We have heart.” It visually depicts how some students are quick to compete and excel, while others hold back and are more contemplative. The underlying theme is discovering one’s place in the world…in other words: Be who you are and go at your own pace.
The advice also applies to Juan Ruiz (School of Illustration), Kenneth Malone (Fine Art) and Tim Andrews (Illustration)—the Academy students who painted the work, assisted by Pam Marano (Art Education). “We seek to empower our painters to discover where they can use their skills to make the world a place where art communicates, upgrades property, and develops social values,” says Nunnelly. “Giving back to the community is something our students enjoy doing.”
The challenge for the painters, she recalls, was the format.
“The mural measures 66 feet long and 10 feet tall. This long and short space was a design challenge. We came up with several options; each one used the space creatively. The chosen proposal was one originally designed by Kenneth Malone. Craig Nelson [Fine Art executive director—painting] enhanced the design, and fellow students got into the process by adding their own touches to Kenneth’s original vision.”
While painting, the Academy artists made friends with many St. Brigid students who were enthusiastic spectators. The children named each animal as a representation of a staff member or school administrator. “The vote is unclear as to who the penguins represent,” Nunnelly explains. “However, the main owl is for Sister Mary Jo. She wisely watches over all in the mural design.”
Sister Mary Jo Wise, who died in May 2014, was a longtime teacher at St. Brigid; the mural is dedicated to her. Sister Mary Jo encouraged her students to “soar,” and so it is fitting that an owl, her favorite animal, now soars over the playground as a visible reminder of her inspiration.
A third grader by the name of Sedona made a point to observe and befriend the muralists during the semester. She calls the experience “the best part of the school year so far.” As the art director ex officio for the project, her ongoing commentary helped envision a scene that turned out to be magical for the children.
“I feel like I’m in a faraway land and no one is here,” says Sedona. “Just me and my friends, the animals.”
About St. Brigid School
St. Brigid School was founded in 1888 and offers K–8 education integrating the principles of the Catholic faith. The school strives to develop inquisitive, collaborative and tenacious learners for the 21st century. The school’s motto is “We have HEART”: Happy, healthy individuals who care for themselves and others;Empowered, confident thinkers who are open-minded and diligent; Active Christians who act like Jesus;Responsible stewards who contribute to our greater community; Technologically ethical citizens who communicate effectively. Students from the Academy of Art University have forged close relationships with the school by participating in support projects.
About the Former St. Brigid Church
Flanking the school at the corner of Van Ness and Broadway is St. Brigid Church, a historic structure built at the turn of the 19th century. It survived the earthquakes of 1906 and 1989, serving generations of San Franciscans, but was shuttered by the archdiocese in 1994, which cited exorbitant seismic retrofitting costs. In 2005, the Academy purchased the church, investing in the necessary retrofitting and alterations to make it a multi-use space for classes, film screenings and community events.