Legacy loading: Muirlands Middle School’s new student-designed mural is getting help from arts foundation

The Muirlands legacy mural for 2021 was installed just after students returned to in-person instruction during the pandemic.
The Muirlands Middle School legacy mural for 2021 was installed just after students returned to in-person instruction during the COVID-19 pandemic.
(Elisabeth Frausto)

A VAPA program will provide training and funds for the school’s latest ‘legacy mural,’ created by eighth-graders to represent their years at the school.


The 3-year-old “legacy mural” program at Muirlands Middle School in La Jolla is artfully aligning with the Community Engaged Mural program of the Visual and Performing Arts Foundation to design and paint a new mural at the school.

VAPA, which works to increase access to and enhance the quality of arts education in the San Diego Unified School District, chose seven SDUSD schools, including Muirlands, to participate this year, meaning they will receive training to engage, organize and lead diverse groups of school community members in creating on-campus murals.

The schools also will receive $500 each for materials including paint, brushes and tarps, and can borrow VAPA’s tools such as ladders, bristle brushes, drop cloths, digital projectors and shade canopies.

At Muirlands, the training and funds will go toward the third installment of the school’s legacy murals created by eighth-graders to represent their three years at the school.

“If we’re going to put public art at a school, it should reflect this community of people that are teaching and learning [here],” said Muirlands art teacher Patricia Cox, who serves on the VAPA advisory council for SDUSD.

Cox, who has taught at Muirlands the past 15 of her 20 years in education, and Muirlands Principal Jeff Luna are the school’s Community Engaged Mural leaders for this project.

CEM, now in its third year, selects participating schools via an application process that’s open to all schools in the district except those that have participated previously.

Muirlands has had murals installed in the past by professional artists or volunteers, and though Cox said they are valuable contributions, “there’s no reason why this can’t come from within. We have all these amazing kids that have great creative ideas.”

An empty wall on the school’s 200 building has been selected for the new mural, and the design is in process. All eighth-graders are invited to submit their ideas in line with this year’s multi-panel concept, with each panel illustrating a part of Muirlands culture.

This blank wall at Muirlands Middle School in La Jolla soon will have a mural painted on it.
(Elisabeth Frausto)

Students have until Thursday, March 23, to submit their draft designs. Cox will offer feedback, and final drafts are due just after spring break, which ends Sunday, April 2.

Once a drawing is selected, the image will be traced on the wall with a projector and community members will be invited to participate in its painting.

Cox isn’t sure yet when the design will be chosen and installation will begin, but she believes it will be finished by late May.

“It’s like paint by numbers,” Cox said. “It does feel like a serious ‘takes a village’ kind of a project. You walk away going, ‘I was a part of that.’”

The first of the Muirlands legacy murals, a large collage of colorful triangles with the words “Express yourself” in the center, was designed by two students and installed in spring 2021, just after students returned to in-person instruction during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Last year’s mural, an image of former first lady Michelle Obama with her quote “No matter who you are, no matter where you come from, you are beautiful,” was painted with student help by local artist Matthew Perdoni, who was hired by Muirlands’ foundation.

Last year's Muirlands legacy mural contains a quote from Michelle Obama.
(Elisabeth Frausto)

Nehama Tourkia, the student who designed the mural, chose the quote “because in middle school ... you’re changing so quickly and you can’t help but be very [conscious] of your looks,” Cox said. “She said, ‘It’s easy to lose perspective of beauty.’”

CEM started in 2019 but took a two-year pause during the pandemic, according to Don Masse, the SDUSD visual arts resource teacher.

“The idea is that [schools] go through the program. And that builds the capacity for the school site to then continue doing these in the future with their communities,” Masse said. “And I’m always available for technical resources and assistance after they leave the program.”

The training provided by CEM includes three sessions during which mural leaders at each school are introduced to “community-based mural making,” Masse said. The sessions also share resources, cover how to engage communities and include a hands-on lesson on paint techniques, as well as troubleshooting.

“We … make the mural painting process as easy as possible, as approachable as possible for any community member to be involved in the process,” Masse said.

“I’m a big proponent of public art because it allows students and community members to see that art isn’t just [on] gallery and museum walls, that it’s open to everybody.”

“It does feel like a serious ‘takes a village’ kind of a project. You walk away going, ‘I was a part of that.’”

— Patricia Cox, Muirlands Middle School art teacher

Murals are “really powerful for bringing communities together,” promoting a sense of pride in school campuses and providing spaces where people congregate and have discussions, he said.

It’s crucial to have students and “as many voices involved in the process as possible,” Masse said. “It really opens up this mural-making experience.”

When the new Muirlands mural is complete, there will a public unveiling for the community.

“I’m so excited,” Cox said. “There’s going to be something great.” ◆