EMERYVILLE YOUTH CREATE NATION’S FIRST SOLAR-POWERED MURAL
Description of the solar mural project from one of the
Last Friday in my first period class, sculpture and science students joined forces to create a solar powered kinetic mural. What does this mean? Emeryville sculptor, Therese Lahaie, through the Emeryville Youth Art Program (EYAP) is working with students to teach them about solar energy and how to put their scientific knowledge to use creating a work of art. The solar mural will be based on the City of Emeryville as a solar city. The sun will power the lights, transportation and all the things that are currently powered by other forms of electricity. Mr. Thomas' and Mrs. Crow's first period classes come together every Friday until the solar project is complete in late February. At the first meeting the students made whirligigs and used solar cells powered by sun light to make the whirligigs move. The students manipulated the solar cells and learned that different angles of the sun changed how fast the whirligigs moved. There is much work to be done. Hal Aronson from Solar School House, a program that does solar energy teacher training, will be visiting the class to go over the finer points of solar power with the students.
Emeryville High School students have completed what is believed to
be the nation’s first solar-powered mural and
model of their hometown. Approximately thirty juniors and seniors
participated in the project, which combined sculpture and integrated
into a once weekly workshop conducted over the past six months.
The project will be exhibited at the Emeryville City Hall at 1333
Avenue from March 4 to May 31, 2003. City Hall is open to the public
Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Optimal viewing time
for the solar mural is morning through mid -afternoon.
The project involved combining the imaginative possibilities of art and science by constructing a freestanding mural of a map of Emeryville with various moving pieces powered by solar energy. The first stage of the project required the students to decide on the structures and geographical elements the map should include, such as key transportation routes, businesses, bodies of water, and municipal buildings. Then the students came up with representational treatments of these elements, which included substituting with solar power the lights, transportation, and other things that are currently powered by other fuel sources. During the third stage of the project, Lahaie encouraged the students to use their creativity to design and construct solar-powered “whirligigs,” whimsical devices mounted to a half-volt motor, powered by a solar module. When light hits the solar module, the whirligigs spin.
The solar mural project helped the students to imagine a sustainable way of relating to their world, and to share this understanding with others through art. Emeryville High School junior Dondre Wallace decided that the map should include boats in San Francisco Bay. To accomplish this, he painted a picture of a rowboat with a fisherman in it, and created a spinning fish on the fishing line, with a light-emitting diode (L.E.D.) for the running lights on the aft and stern of the boat. When light shines on the mural, the fish spins around, and the running lights beam. None of the students, including Wallace, had any prior experience with electricity, mural making, or solar whirligigs. The students were engaged by the exposure to basic electricity and wiring, and especially enjoyed learning how to solder leads to motors and LEDs.
During weekly sessions in the fall of 2002, 33 students participated in the workshop. At the first meeting, the students made whirligigs, and used solar cells powered by sunlight to make the whirligigs move. During subsequent classes, Lahaie showed the students how to conduct a series of experiments with wiring solar cells in series and parallel to a small motor and whirligig. For instance, one experiment involved the use of a voltmeter to measure electrical current produced by various light sources. As students’ understanding of solar power grew, Lahaie discussed the importance of solar energy in response to pollution and the depletion of fossil fuels. Lahaie asked students to imagine a city powered by solar energy, rather than gas and oil. Through drawing and painting, the students reflected their urban surroundings, and these drawings were the basis for the design of the solar cell-driven whirligigs.
For a stipend, members of the 45th Street Artists’ Cooperative regularly teach classes at Emeryville public schools through the Emeryville Youth Art Program (EYAP). The Cooperative, as a community outreach project, initiated EYAP in 1983. Over the past 19 years the Program has brought over fifty professional visual, performance and media artists into the classroom and facilitated student visits to area museums and galleries. In addition, each spring Cooperative members open their studios to Emery High School art students for visits and artist presentations. The Program serves students from the ethnically diverse Emeryville Unified School District, and provides art curriculum for the District’s public schools. EYAP is funded by a grant from the City of Emeryville, contributions from the local business community and from the Cooperative itself. The solar-mural project, called the Solar Art Workshop, provided a rare opportunity for the students to build a model of a solar-powered city.
A bankruptcy of Emeryville Unified School District in 2001 has resulted in severe budget cuts district-wide. The result is that the City’s budget for arts programs has been slashed, and the art department has little or no budget for supplies. The Emeryville Youth Art Program has donated materials as well as providing teaching support to the art department, and this support is needed more than ever as the school district faces another $500,000 in budget cuts in the next fiscal year.
Making the solar-mural project even more relevant, a proposal to make the Emeryville School District a math, science, and technology training school as well as a professional development site for teachers was approved by the City and the Advisory (School) Board. Currently in its planning and assessment stage, the District will implement the plan, called the Math, Science and Technology Initiative (MSTI) in 2004. The Bay Area Coalition for Equitable Schools (BAYCES, www.bayces.org) is sponsoring MSTI through a grant, and is in turn funded by a grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. Carol Balfe, a BAYCES science education consultant, was hired to integrate science and technology curriculum into the classroom, and was a valuable resource on the solar-mural project.
The solar mural is part of a month long student art exhibition in the glass link of Emeryville City Hall. At the city's March 4 city council meeting, March was designated "Youth Art Month" in Emeryville in conjunction with the "Art IS Education" program, a month-long celebration of youth arts learning throughout Alameda County. "Art IS Education" is presented by the Alameda County Office of Education through the Alliance for Arts Learning Leadership in partnership with the Alameda County Art Commission, California Arts Council, and the Alameda County Board of Education, and is funded by a generous grant from Wells Fargo.
Photo Credits: Paul Herzoff and Robert Gardener