Public Art in a Public School
Harold Olejarz

Students' art is often temporarily installed on bulletin boards and in display cases. Their artwork is displayed for a short time, and then it is gone. This practice does not give students a sense of the real-life challenge of creating a permanent artwork for a specific site. It also does not give students the sense that they and/or their peers have made a lasting contribution to the visual and cultural environment of their school.

The "Public Art in a Public School" practice makes a classroom art project real for middle-school students. Students learn to understand the process of competing for a public art commission by getting involved in the process as an artist competing for a commission and as a judge who will determine which work of art is selected for their school site. As artists, students learn to develop their ideas from small sketches into large finished works that are then considered for installation in their school. As judges, students consider the art created and select the work they feel is best. Students are first introduced to the notion of public art and view examples of public art. They also discuss examples of public art in their environment. A school site for the students' public art project is visited and students discuss the specifics of the location and what images are suitable for the site.

Students develop ideas for the site and begin the process of making sketches and developing the sketches into large one-half scale paintings. The completed paintings are then exhibited. Approximately two hundred students view the paintings and vote for the work they feel is best for the site. The student whose work is selected by their peers then "receives the commission" and creates the artwork for the designated school site. The students involved in the public art process have learned to develop their ideas from small sketches to large-scale paintings. They have gained an understanding of the "commission process" and have created impressive works of public art that are a vital part of our middle school community.

The students involved in selecting the artwork engage in lively discussions about which work they feel is best and then cast their ballot. All students enjoy seeing examples of the talent of their peers and appreciate the contribution fellow students have made to their school.


All work on this site ©Harold Olejarz 1997 - 1999 and the artists credited. No images or text may be used for commercial purposes without written permission from Harold Olejarz. Personal or educational uses are allowed with permission from Harold Olejarz.