Out painting the town: Athenaeum teen program fosters ‘community of art-interested youth’

As steward of the Murals of La Jolla public art program, the Athenaeum Music & Arts Library is known for hosting tours and providing history on the murals that grace our town. However, there’s one mural with which The Athenaeum’s had more of a hands-on approach — the one created by its teen art program.

The student mural, completed Dec. 8, is painted along the back parking lot at 1008 Wall St. for all to see. The free, weekly teen art program started in September 2017, and over the course of the dozen or so sessions, the students (at their own request) took the steps to create a mural.

Program founder Lidia Rossner explained: “When we were talking about the projects the students wanted to do, they expressed interest in creating a mural. We provided a study in color theory and took them on a walking tour of the Murals of La Jolla. Then we brought in Barrio Logan muralist Mario Torero, who talked about the importance of muralism, and the students were convinced. He taught them about street art, about social activism, and the role of murals in all that.”

Before they could take paint to wall, the 20-something students drew out on paper the images they would incorporate in the mural. With the images drawn, pieced together and ready to project onto the wall, things took a creative turn.

“We wanted them to draw on the wall just to see how it felt, so we gave them Sharpies and they just didn’t stop,” Rossner laughed. “A lot of them drew what we had prepared, but many didn’t. We ended up leaving it the way it was, even through it was different from what we planned. They had to consult with each other. In the color theory discussion, we used primary colors and white and black, and they applied the color theory to practice. They made all the colors themselves. With the outline on the wall and the kids ready to paint, some used their hands, others used brushes, sponges and drip techniques.”

What’s next for the teen art program?

That’s for the students to decide. Meetings resume 4:30 p.m. Friday, Jan. 12 and continue Fridays until May, for ages 13-18. In the first go, students from Muirlands Middle, La Jolla High, Bishop’s, High Tech middle, La Jolla Country Day and a couple of other schools participated. The classes are taught by paid artists.

“The idea is to have the programming be co-developed by participants,” Rossner said. “Through the end of January, there is an exploratory period to see what works and what doesn’t. We’re going to adjust our offerings based on wants and needs. The students become more invested because their voices are heard.”

The inaugural group expressed interest in pen-and-ink drawing, so that may make its way onto the schedule. Secondarily, the Athenaeum will work with the artists exhibiting in the library. For example, Wick Alexander, whose “On the Money” opened Jan. 6, may provide a lecture on iconography. There are also lectures with local architects planned to explore the importance of art in architecture.

“This is not a craft-based program,” Rossner explained. “We stress the fine arts and social sciences. Since we are a music and arts library, the students use the library as a resource and draw from our exhibitions for inspiration.

“Our exhibits are open to the public, but a lot of people don’t know that, especially teenagers. Consequently, we don’t get a lot of young people here. We wanted to foster a community of art-interested youth and provide a space for them. There are art camps in the summer, but not much else. I talked to parents and teens to see if there was interest and I realized this program would be something meaningful.”

For those who have participated, it has been.

Shea McAulife called the class “an amazing opportunity,” and added that she’s “thankful I was able to paint a mural through the class. If you have the chance to take the class, I highly recommend you take advantage of it.”

WANT TO KNOW MORE? Students, ages 13-18, can drop in on any class (4:30 p.m. Fridays, Jan. 12 through May 25) but Rossner advises calling the Athenaeum in advance at (858) 454-5872 to see what the session will focus on that week. Teens can sign up and attend if there’s space. The Athenaeum is at 1008 Wall St. ljathenaeum.org/teen

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