Being a fellow in my first months of being in Omaha proved to be especially challenging for me, as not only was I trying to get acclimated to the local Omaha art scene, but trying to figure out who and how to work with which partners. My wife had also been hospitalized during the middle of the semester, so focusing was especially difficult. Something had to give, and it turned out to be my own studio practice.
But persistence always pays off. Through numerous attempts contacting and meeting various people ranging from the UNO campus, to staff at the Learning Community Center of North Omaha, the the teachers and staff working with Blackburn high, we were able to come to an understanding of what we could do together. Working with my students along with the Blackburn high students, we decided to put together a mural that represents the future vision of what the Learning Community Center is doing for the North Omaha neighborhood. We worked together very hard exchanging ideas between one another before finally settling on an idea came up by the Blackburn high students. My students and I came up with the final underdrawing and afterwards, everyone came together and painted for two weeks straight, filling colors between the lines. The final output was on 8 door panels that were put together for a 20 feet wide by 7 feet high composition.
On the day of the unveiling, I met up with the carpenters and facility staff at Learning Community Center to discuss the installation. A decision was made to hang high on the walls right by the front entrance for all who comes into the building to see. All of our students showed up 4 hours later to celebrate the completion of the community project together. Upon reflection, both my students and Blackburn high students spoke of enjoying their time together.
Afterwards, I learned that the night before the opening, a student from Blackburn high was fatally shot. The school was officially cancelled on the day of the unveiling, but the students involved with the mural project insisted on showing up. Their presence showed just how much it all meant to them. Out of everything great that's already happened, nothing compared to that moment. That alone for me, is the ultimate reward and worth all of the hard work.
News coverage of the collaboration: http://www.wowt.com/home/headlines/UNO-and-Blackburn-Students-Partner-for-North-Omaha-Mural-361526291.html