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Phoenix Academy Hosts Guest Artist to Create Mural

The stage at one end of the gymnasium at Phoenix Academy High School (PAHS) often goes unused for days at a time, but recently the school’s Art Club has been working with artist Delaney Susi to create three brilliantly colored panels that will form a mural for installation next door at Lincoln Center, the school district’s central offices. The stage has become a studio space, with tables of paints and brushes, sketches and the panels themselves, music often playing softly as the students work quietly, alongside Susi. PAHS student mural

“Durham Arts Council teaching artist, Delaney Susi, has been working with the Phoenix Academy Art Club since mid-November,” said CHCCS Arts Coordinator, Brenda Whiteman. “She really has done so much more than painting a mural. The students spent several weeks in the classroom looking at images of murals and discussing symbolism.” 

Susi introduced the students to famous muralists from Diego Rivera to Harlem Renaissance artist, Aaron Douglas. She also showed them photographs she has been shooting over many weeks as the Durham artist, Cornelio Campos, created a new mural in the Lakewood neighborhood. Because PAHS doesn’t have an art teacher on staff, Susi talked about broad subjects like color theory and color mixing with the students.

Whiteman said, “They spent time conceptualizing the ideas that would represent Phoenix Academy to the central offices. They decided on a Phoenix breaking away from the chains, and graduates on the road to success.  It really was a collaborative process.”

Before they moved to the gym to begin actually painting, Susi asked the students to sketch out different designs. “I asked, ‘What do you want your message to be?’ And everybody’s design elements are included.”

PAHS student mural Recent sessions have been focused on executing those design elements. Student Stanley Rhodes, dressed all in black, said, “I like black, so I’ve been doing all the black parts.” As he attempted to use one brush, he declared it too stiff, and with a smile and the flair of a comedic performer, said, “I just can’t work under these conditions!” He soon found a “just-right brush” and resumed painting.

The PAHS mural is part of a much larger district project this year. Whiteman offered a choice to every CHCCS art teacher, to either bring individual student work or create school murals for the spring art show. Nine schools have signed on to contribute murals: PAHS, Chapel Hill High School, Culbreth Middle School, Seawell, Rashkis, Glenwood, Northside, Carrboro and Frank Porter Graham Elementary Schools.

To learn more about the district project, read a recent article in the "Daily Tar Heel" by UNC reporter, Meredith Radford.