Perhaps you’ve seen it while driving up Western Avenue, the rays of yellow and blue, the brightly hued honeycomb, the bee and quail, and the vividly colored peace flags gently moving in the breeze. What was once a dilapidated 1930’s gas station turned abandoned La Cotija mexican restaurant is now a gift of art to the Petaluma community, brought to us by the Art Angels club from St. Vincent High School. Coordinated by art instructors Marla Pedersen and Amy Waud-Reiter, 15 students met every Saturday this past fall to work on these beautiful murals with paint donated from Kelly-Moore Paints. The theme, emblazoned across the bottom of the building, is Ghandi’s inspiring message: “Be the change you wish to see in the world.”
Cleaning up the La Cotija building, a major eyesore at a core intersection in our town, was a perfect vehicle of opportunity to allow students give back to their community and to fulfill their school service requirement. Pedersen told the SVHS Onlooker, “I saw it as a way for students to get involved in the community with an art project that will benefit the community and the students as well.” La Cotija became their canvas to share their creativity with everyone.Getting approval for this art project wasn’t easy. Pedersen and Waud- Reiter patiently and persistently contacted city hall, the building’s realtors, and the owners of the property again and again until they reached them and received approval.
As these dedicated high school students began priming and painting the building with symbols of peace and images of Petaluma, another group of students were getting involved as well. Students who are just starting their school-life journey. Motivated by Ghandi’s powerful message and the dedication and creativity of the Art Angels, preschool students from Arts in the Garden school were invited to put the finishing touches on this beautification project. The school decided to the create “peace flags” that now grace the perimeter of the building.
The process of creating these flags for what the preschool named the “La Cotija Peace Project,” became a journey for the teachers, children and parents that explored the ideas and experiences of “peace” on many levels. It is a beautiful example of project based learning and the promotion of community responsibility, coordinated by Arts in the Garden director Amy Rosenbaum and Marla Pedersen.
To get the students thinking about what “peace” means to them, together with their parents and teachers, they created a vocabulary of peace. They shared words like Love, Hug, Equal, Family, Gentle, Helping, and Quiet. Their words were painted on fabric squares that would become the flags. Then students and parents together created additional flags that depicted the meaning of their words in images. The images created were of hearts, birds, flowers, symbols, and lovely abstract patterns.
DOING THE MATH
The students were involved in every step of the process of creating their peace flags. Once all the painting was complete, the fabric was laid out and measured by the students. They figured out how many fabric squares were needed to fit the space, 80 total, and then helped sew them together to form a swag that would drape around the La Cotija building.
Once the flags were completed, they were draped around the school’s garden to be enjoyed before sending them out into the world. On Saturday morning, December 21, 2013, the students, parents and teachers met at the La Cotija building to hang the flags and celebrate their accomplishment. They played, sang, and danced around the building, while teacher Billy Witz, guitar in hand, lead the students in familiar songs about peace, love, and gentleness.
“It is a remarkable collaboration between students who are graduating high school and students just beginning their journey, both participating in something so much larger than themselves, contributing to the community and making that little intersection at Howard Street and Western Avenue an inspiring heartwarming beacon,” Arts in the Garden parent Simone Haslam shared with the Petaluma Argus Courier. We couldn’t agree more.
Sheila Cunningham, current editor of Nurturers’ News, is a parent at the Arts in the Garden preschool. References used to create this article: Students are Back and Busy, Maureen Highland. Petaluma Argus-Courier. 1/10/14. Beautifying Petaluma One Block at a Time, Emily Charrier. Petaluma Argus-Courier. 11/25/13. La Cotija Beautification Project, Grace Jennings. SVHS Onlooker. 11/21/13.
Image Cedits: Amy Rosenbaum, Petaluma Argus-Courier