Riverdale and Grace King Students Beautify Fat City
Jefferson Chamber Foundation
For many years, people might not have associated the Metairie neighborhood of Fat City with the word “beauty.” However, in 2013, Jefferson Parish government, businesses and private citizens began a project to introduce public art to Fat City. More than five years later, the initiative continues with the installation of murals surrounding the Entergy substation at the intersection of W. Esplanade and Edenborn Avenues — all painted by talented students from the arts programs at Riverdale and Grace King High Schools in Jefferson Parish.
The latest set of murals painted by Riverdale High School students were unveiled on November 2, 2018, joining a set previously finished by Grace King High School students in 2017. Students from Grace King and Riverdale completed seven murals each for a total of 14 murals. The students spent months brainstorming, sketching and revising their designs. Funding for the project came from a variety of sources: The Metairie Business Development District, in coordination with the Jefferson Chamber Foundation, provided project management with a donation of supplies and equipment from Helm Paint & Supply. Each school also received a grant of $10,000 from Entergy Louisiana and the office of Jefferson Parish Councilwoman Jennifer Van Vrancken. Van Vrancken said she views the project as another chapter in Fat City’s ongoing transformation.
“The fence murals are yet another sign of the creativity and vitality blossoming in the new Fat City,” Van Vrancken said. The murals feature several segments depicting the people, animals and scenes that make Fat City unique. Each segment is different but contributes to the overall theme of highlighting the unique qualities of the area.
Phillip Whitmore, an art teacher at Riverdale High School, said the work has been an invaluable experience for his students. When Whitmore’s students apply for college art programs or jobs within the art world, they can point to the real-world experience of painting publicly-displayed murals. Whitmore said that this kind of project isn’t something public schools can typically afford to curate for their students.
“It’s just been great to give them an experience they don’t normally have,” Whitmore said.
Aside from tangible experience on a resume, Whitmore said the effort has also been an enormous confidence booster for the students, as they know they can take a project from small, simple sketches to large-scale completion. As the students worked on the murals in the hallways at Riverdale, other students and teachers frequently paid the artists compliments. Whitmore said it was a pleasure to watch his students’ self-esteem and confidence grow throughout the process.
Tracey Bullington, an art teacher at Grace King High School, said her students were used to doing projects that lasted for a day or up to a week at school, but had never worked on anything of this magnitude. Aside from providing valuable creative experience, Bullington said the students also learned skills that are useful in most careers. These skills include following through on long-term projects, attending meetings (students had to present designs to local business and community leaders for approval), and filling out purchase orders for supplies.
“High school students are capable of so much when they’re given an opportunity and the freedom to pursue it,” Bullington said. “I was really impressed by the amount of ownership and commitment the students brought to the project.”
Prior to the installation of these murals, ten additional murals were spread out across Fat City. If additional funding is received, more murals could be added in the future. The Jefferson Chamber Foundation believes that making the area more visually appealing leads to more interest in the neighborhood for both potential businesses and homeowners.