Fourth graders from across city cross lines with pictures on ‘Flexible Fence’

ArtPrize Project 1 sculpture features more than 1,000 student drawings

Seeking out their artwork are Burton Elementary fourth graders (from left) Mateo Juan-Ramirez, Audriana Austin and Amaya Batista-Edwards

Fourth grader Anthony Torres pointed to a drawing of a school surrounded by stars and gleefully said to Erwin Ruedas-Camas, “This is yours!” 

Yes, the picture was Erwin’s creation. His is one of more than 1,000 images made by GRPS students adorning a gracefully curving wooden fence on the lawn of the Grand Rapids Public Museum. It’s called “Flexible Fence,” a public installation designed by sculptor-educator Eliza Fernand, which she created using images made by some 1,200 fourth graders from all 26 GRPS elementary schools.

Burton fourth grader Rosy Lopez proudly points to her artwork showing a book, which makes her feel like she belongs

A collaboration of the city schools, ArtPrize and PNC Bank, the 6-foot-high fence symbolizes community inclusion and what it means to belong. Students’ concepts of that were fertilized by reading the book “Maybe Something Beautiful,” a true story of how an urban art trail helped transform a San Diego neighborhood. 

“Flexible Fence” has transformed the museum riverbank with students’ fanciful and surprising images colored on swatches of fabric glued onto the fence. They flocked to the fence by the busload last week, eagerly seeking out their drawings and others showing touching notions of belonging: their homes and schools, hearts and peace signs, playing football with a friend.

That last was drawn by Burton Elementary fourth grader Jazhon Calvin. “I just feel like I fit in” playing ball, he said.

Burton student Rosy Lopez drew a book, because, she said, “When I get a chapter book, I always finish it. I feel like I belong to a book that’s pretty.”

Joseph Solorzano Garcia drew a playground slide he’d recently slid down, “Because friends were there,” he said. “I liked that memory and I want to remember it.” 

Klarisa Garcia drew a phone surrounded by hearts, because she loves being able to text others when they’re not with her. “It looks beautiful,” she said of the fence. “I love when people inspire.” 

Students’ pictures showed the things that make them feel they belong

Pictures Tell Stories 

Fernand was approached to create the sculpture for Project 1, this year’s version of ArtPrize running through Oct. 27. The event’s theme is “crossed lines,” exploring what it means to belong in a city across neighborhoods and other lines that can divide people, said Becca Guyette, ArtPrize director of learning and engagement. ArtPrize worked with GRPS to design lessons plans and provided schools with art supplies and the story book. 

Cesar E. Chavez Elementary students Miguel Pedro-Francisco, left, and Pedro Andres-Diego are seriously psyched at finding one of their pictures

Fernand, a teaching artist at Cook Arts Center and WMCAT, said she conceived of the fence as a “playful, looping line” that creates enclosed, open and inaccessible spaces. She liked that images were made by students from different backgrounds but all from the same grade. Their pictures tell little stories about their experiences, such as a video game one student bought with proceeds from a community bake sale, she said. 

“It really reveals what they value,” like friendships and family, Fernand said. “It’s such a beautiful sight. I’m so glad we got to have it here.”

When the exhibit is done, the fence will be divided into 26 sections and the segments given to all the participating schools. 

Watching students excitedly gather and chatter around the fence, GRPS Fine Arts Director Maggie Malone was taken by not only the creativity of their images but the commitment of the adults who supported them. 

“That speaks to why Grand Rapids is an arts city,” Malone said. “This is why everybody wants to live here. People want to belong here because of things like this.”

CONNECT 

See Maranda’s report on Flexible Fence

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Charles Honey
Charles Honey is a freelance writer and former columnist for The Grand Rapids Press/ MLive.com. As a reporter for The Press from 1985 to 2009, his beats included Grand Rapids Public Schools, local colleges and education issues. Honey served as editor of The Press’ award-winning Religion section for 15 years. His freelance articles have appeared in Christianity Today magazine, Religion News Service and the Aquinas College alumni magazine. Read Charles' full bio or email Charles.

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