For a couple dozen students at Clark Middle School, the new two-dimensional sculptures on display at the Gardens at Bragaw are more than just wood and paint.
They’re symbols of teamwork and friendship, reflections of the neighborhood and an open invitation to anyone who might pass by.
“I think we put it up there to let people know that you can be a part of this family that we have in Mountain View,” said 13-year-old Thomas Sio, who helped paint the sculptures now attached to the community garden fence. “We’re all friends; you can be a part of us, too.”
The sculptures were created through a partnership between the neighborhood middle school and the Anchorage Community Land Trust (ACLT), the local development organization that owns and operates the garden across the Glenn Highway from Clark. Several sculptures—simple, human-like silhouettes—were completed and installed at the garden this past spring, and students finished a second round earlier this semester.
Radhika Krishna, a community development manager with ACLT, said a $5,000 grant from the Anchorage East Rotary Club funded the art project, as well as various other community garden improvements and another art collaboration with the The Arc of Anchorage. After initially meeting with the middle school to talk about ideas for a student art project, Krishna said, ACLT purchased the materials for the sculptures and left the rest up to the students and teachers.
“It turned out very professionally, I think,” Krishna said. “The art helps [the garden] look like a cared-for and invested-in space all year round.”
It helps add pops of color to the garden space long after the plants have died, she said.
Kraig Berg, an applied technologies teacher at Clark, and art teacher Leanna Dent, spearheaded the design and creation of the sculptures. Berg’s students took charge of the layout; routing, cutting and sanding the wood. Dent’s art students painted the sculptures, preparing them to withstand the elements and stand out against the winter landscape.
Berg saw firsthand how his students came together to get it done.
“They had a very great sense of purpose,” Berg said. “They knew what we were doing, and they knew that they were contributing to the community with this project, and they were on fire to help me.”
Blanca Patrick and KaitLynne Kennedy, both 13, said working on the garden art project seemed to bring everyone closer together. What started as collaboration in the classroom turned into hellos in the hallways. KaitLynne said the two never used to talk to each other before creating the sculptures for the garden; “Now we’re best friends.”
Plus, they girls said it feels good to see their work displayed at the Bragaw Street garden. It feels good to be a part of something bigger.
“It feels better whenever you get to work for the community, and together, on something,” KaitLynne said.
In another classroom across the hall, Dent said about 25 of her art students helped paint the wooden sculptures after the applied technology class created the shapes. Together, she said, they sought to make something that would symbolize “the heart of the community.”
“We kind of focused in on family,” she said.
The theme seemed to resonate with her students.
Thomas, an eighth-grader with a talent for sketching, thought the project hit the nail on the head. He said the vibrantly colored art on the fence represents the diversity and close ties within his neighborhood. He hopes it sends a message.
“We just wanted to … show them that Mountain View is a pretty good neighborhood and we have good students over here at Clark,” said Thomas, sitting at his desk, working on a pencil sketch of a wolf a few days before the end of the semester.
He has a penchant for Polynesian-style design. It runs in his family, which hails from Samoa: His uncle is Anchorage freestyle tattoo artist Lui Talo. Talo creates the patterns on skin with ink; Thomas puts them on paper with pencils. And while there’s a world of difference between the intricate styles the teenager favors and the solid-colored paint jobs on the garden art project, the wooden sculptures also hold special cultural meaning for him. They embody his connection to the tightly knit neighborhood.
“We’re like one big family,” Thomas said.
Some students thought the art project could help change stereotypes about the area.
It’s hardly the first public art installation in the neighborhood: There are murals and sculptures on display from one end of Mountain View Drive to the other. But every lit bit seems to help shift perceptions—if only from the inside.
“People usually just judge…but when you add color, it really changes your point of view on Mountain View,” said 13-year-old Blanca, who also lives there.
She said the sculptures, made with care, are her school’s way of giving back. It looks better than the graffiti scrawled along fences and alleys throughout the neighborhood, she said.
They’re a symbol of the teens’ investment in the neighborhood, the most diverse in the country, according to U.S. Census data. Even if the sculptures got “messed up,” Thomas said, the class would fix them and put them back. They represent his view of the place he calls home.
“It doesn’t matter what color you are,” he said. “We’ll take you in.”