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Havelock High School art students' mural reflects their community

Havelock is home to Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point, which supports tens of thousands of military personnel and their families.  And the children of these families go to schools right here in Eastern North Carolina. In fact, over 25% of Craven County Schools students are military-connected. 

These students - with their diverse and unique experiences -- came together to create a mural of self-portraits.  As PRE’s Meredith Radford reports, that’s the idea behind a month-long art project involving Havelock High School students and a local artist.    

At the Bank of the Arts in Downtown New Bern, five rectangular panels with brightly colored portraits hang on the wall. Some are realistic, and some are more abstract -- resembling animation.

On one of the panels, there’s a roller coaster with each student’s portrait displayed in a different drawing style. On another, four students are in different rooms but are reaching toward a television at the center. Some students are making stars or hearts with their hands touching.

All these interactions display the same idea: that these students built a relationship through this project.

“They had to connect with one another in some way and express themselves through color or shape or how they connected with those students around them.”

Havelock High School art teacher Theresa Holtz says the project was based on the connection between military and nonmilitary kids, and how they interact in the community.

“So, the way they depicted themselves and how they connected with the other students around them kind of showed a little bit about their personality, how they’d like to be perceived, and maybe how they felt like they were perceived by others.”

Establishing connections with their peers can be challenging for children of military families. According to the USO, most military families move every two to three years, some even more frequently. Holtz says the project also reflects how the many different backgrounds of Havelock’s students mold their unique community.

“What I see when looking at these artworks is acceptance, and a willingness to adapt to the needs of others. Because they had to speak with each other to figure out how to make what they wanted, work for the whole group. And that’s really how our community is as far as being in a military town. We have to figure out how to meet each other in the middle, because we’re all going to have a different culture background.”

An Arts in Education grant from the North Carolina Arts Council allowed New Bern artist and U.S. Army veteran Lee Hood to come to Havelock High to work with the students. Through the month of March, he helped them create the mural of self-portraits, called “Military Kids Color Our Community.”

“I served in the military for approximately 29 years. So, this right here was a personal venture for me to do this project.”

Hood trained the students to use a digital drawing program called Procreate, to draw their portraits. The students were split up into groups of three or four.

Julie Pisano, an 11th grade student, says their team didn’t know each other before the project, but now they’re friends.

“We worked very well together as a table, and we problem solved a lot. It helped us reach out more to each other, along with being more creative and going out of our comfort zones.”

Pisano says working in the online program changed their perspective on digital art.

“I’ve never done digital art before and I didn’t know it could be that interactive or that skillful.”

11th grade student Sarah Barclay says Hood showed her that it’s possible to turn art into a career.

“It was a great opportunity talking to an actual local artist because you always hear stories about people that have like gotten big from their hometown, but you never really get the chance to meet them.”

And Hood says working with the students helped him grow as an artist.

“I was able to interact with some young people that were struggling in their artwork and being able to have the ability to communicate with them and lift up self-esteem. And also, to be able to break the artwork down in a fashion where they could understand it, and then talk them through the process, to me was a great success.”

After the students finished their digital portraits, Hood printed them on the large canvas panels that are currently featured in the Craven Arts Council’s Directors Gallery.

“When you actually get your artwork displayed, that’s just one part of it. But when you have the public come in. And when I say public, their parents came in. The parents actually seen the students’ artwork in a different light. You know, maybe they were doing artwork at home, and they say ‘OK, yeah that’s nice,’ but when they’ve actually seen the artwork displayed in a proper setting and done professionally, they actually, I think they might have said ‘well my daughter or son is an artist.’”

The “Military Kids Color Our Community” exhibit is up for the rest of April at the Bank of the Arts. It will go to the Craven County Schools central office during May and then to Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point in June.

For Public Radio East, I’m Meredith Radford.

Meredith Radford is a News Reporter for Public Radio East. She studied at The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, receiving a degree in Journalism and Political Science. Born and raised in Eastern North Carolina, Meredith is excited to cover the area and contribute to the community. When not out reporting, she enjoys hiking, camping and kayaking as well as baking.