I can’t lie, when I proposed the idea of a Brightworks mural project, visions of a spectacular and thematically cohesive art project danced in my brain. I imagined a single scene spanning the four doors of our canvas that said something about who we are as a school or what we have learned about cities.

We set the day up perfectly to this end: a tour of the Mission’s murals with Precita Eyes, a story about communicating through visual arts, and a group discussion of what values we have in common. But when the afternoon came and we split into groups to plan and prepare the mural, all of the energy that we as collaborators had built fizzled. No one wanted to paint a single image nor could they agree on one theme and belaboring the point was just plain boring. I had a moment of disappointment because I had seen the single scene/themed mural as an opportunity for the kids to really work collaboratively.

But the minute I let go of my vision of the mural and the paint brushes hit the paint, something really magical started happening. Small groups of kids started taking ownership of different panels and artistic conflicts began to bubble up. Some of the older students felt very strongly about their visions and a lot of the younger ones just wanted to paint something. There were heated conversations over who could paint what where. The moment was ripe for talking about the basics of collaboration, namely communication and compromise.

When we revisited the mural today I overheard tons of constructive problem solving conversations. Kids were asking permission to paint over drawings that other kids had done. When someone was not okay with where others were painting, they offered better alternatives. The beautiful thing about the mural that the kids are creating now is that it is a real and evolving piece of artwork about cooperation and communication.