published Thursday, February 16th, 2012

Chattanooga students use expressions to enhance community

Volunteer Sharon Turner cuts the individual pieces of a mural while more volunteers hang the pieces on the M.L. King Boulevard railroad overpass Wednesday in downtown Chattanooga. The words used on the mural were chosen by local students.
Volunteer Sharon Turner cuts the individual pieces of a mural while more volunteers hang the pieces on the M.L. King Boulevard railroad overpass Wednesday in downtown Chattanooga. The words used on the mural were chosen by local students.
Photo by Ashlee Culverhouse.
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"Joy," "Love" and "Change" were just three of 48 words being hung on the sides of the railroad overpass at M.L. King Boulevard on Wednesday.

The 48 words were the most-used ones in essays from 72 students at Brown Academy and Chattanooga Girls Leadership Academy. The 7- to 14-year-olds were told to write about three dreams they have to help the M.L. King neighborhood at such a young age.

The students then helped paint the words on vinyl panels now being attached to the side of the overpass.

The project was sponsored by Mark Making, a nonprofit organization that tries to enhance Chattanooga through community-based public art. Using words from the students' essays in a way to beautify the area will encourage not just students but parents as well, said Mark Making spokeswoman Frances McDonald said.

"These guys are already affecting the community. If an adult sees a child pick up a piece of trash, then they'll feel the need to do the same," she said. "Seeing kids lead adults by example is very powerful."

After Mark Making approached the schools with the idea last fall, teachers began integrating the project into their lesson plans, McDonald said.

"The students were fully engaged. They got it," she said.

Community Foundation of Greater Chattanooga and Tennessee Arts Commission helped Mark Making with funding, she said, and more than 200 local residents signed a petition in favor of the project.

"They weren't going to put up with looking at a neglected bridge," McDonald said. "Now it'll be covered in words of revitalization that are from the community."

Though not a student in either school, 10-year-old Allan Turner said he is "humongous" into art. He was at the overpass Wednesday to lend a helping hand, a gig he landed after being in the right place at the right time, he said.

"I was doing graffiti on a legal wall in [the local bar] Discoteca, and Mark Marking liked my work and asked me if I wanted to help out," he said.

Allan said he hopes to make it into the Center for Creative Arts in Chattanooga when he's of age.

Work on the mural came to a halt Wednesday afternoon after the team ran out of adhesive for the rest of the panels. The east side of the bridge is about 40 percent completed and work will resume to get both sides covered on Monday, McDonald said.

A detour is available while the overpass is being remodeled.

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