by Karen Tracy
An eight-story exterior brick wall. The annual conference of the 15,000+ most forward-thinking educators in the world. A school with limitless creativity and a can-do technological spirit. Innovative and inventive student artists. Just how do these architectural, visionary and tech-savvy elements hang together?
Ask the team of students from Springside Chestnut Hill Academy and the City of Philadelphia Mural Arts Program who created the video extravaganza “Mural in Motion.” It was their genius that generated this most recent Philly first: an eight-minute student-produced projection mural that premiered on Sunday, June 26.
The debut of “Mural in Motion” was synched to wow the tech-savvy visitors in town for the International Society of Technology in Education (ISTE) annual conference and was staged in a parking lot across from the Pennsylvania Convention Center on the exterior wall of the Fabric Workshop and Museum at 12th and Arch streets.
Hundreds of spectators watched as images of a city in motion, depicted with geometric shapes precisely aligned to the unique patterns on the wall, comingled with historical elements, sculptural references, dance sequences, and instrumental performances.
Created using a full suite of professional software, “Mural in Motion” was the result of a collaboration between four students from SCH Academy – Katharine Phillips, Elizabeth Sedran, Deirdre Braun and Stephen Skeel – who teamed up with Mural Corp students Araceliz Heredia, Henry Blount, Latasha Billington, Ramik Accoee and Briana Dawkins.
For more than 12 weeks, they worked after school on Friday afternoons to tackle the various challenges in such a huge undertaking: capturing Philly-inspired footage in Center City, writing the original soundtrack and animating the sophisticated graphics that wove their way through the video.
The result was a stunning visual, musical and technical opus.
“Blown away,” raved SCHA history teacher Dr. David Salmanson, “I don’t give compliments easily. I was completely impressed. I can’t take my eyes off it!”
Others present were seen tweeting and texting instantly.
“This spontaneous moment was made possible by students and our amazing faculty, said SCH Academy president Dr. Priscilla Sands. “We are honored and thrilled to be part of the ISTE conference and the leaders on the first-ever project of this kind.”
Dr. Ellen Fishman-Johnson, director of New Media at SCHA and the lead artist on the Mural in Motion project said the idea for the project “was hatched when I was at the ISTE conference in Denver last year.”
An Apple Distinguished Educator since 2007, Fishman-Johnson is part of a worldwide and select community of visionary educators who use Apple technology to transform teaching and learning.
“As an arts educator and an active composer and video artist, I felt that students could really wow this immense audience of interested educators,” she said. “I have been fascinated with the idea of doing a large-scale projection and scoured the Internet for examples, thinking that this would be something we could attempt.
“Of course, when you are thinking of something like this in this city, you think Jane Golden, the visionary leader of the City of Philadelphia Mural Arts Program. After an initial meeting was set up at which we threw out the concept of a large-scale projection, a partnership was born and an idea set in motion. The collaboration took off. Students in my advanced video production class and those in the Mural Corps at the Mural Arts Program hit the ground running!”
Elizabeth Sedran, a rising senior at SCHA and one of the team of students involved in the project, spoke about the challenge of making a wall in a parking lot come alive.
“It’s pretty cool when you’re a kid in high school and you have the opportunity to work on a huge digital mural on a wall – you get to try things and really push yourself,” she said.
Eric Okdeh, noted muralist and lead artist on the Mural Arts Program side, was central to the brainstorming process with community leaders with interests or business in and around the Convention Center, a hallmark of any Mural Arts project. The students involved in the project drew on the feedback teased out during this session to develop the “city in motion” theme for the projection.
An embedded QR code was a late-breaking addition.
“We had fun picturing the image of all the ISTE educators holding up their smartphones, kind of like the famous photo of an audience watching a 3-D movie with everyone wearing those funky 3-D glasses,” said Fishman-Johnson.
As if on queue, cameras, iPads and smartphones were poised, raised and ready to document this “Philly first.” The projection and audio equipment on the site, masterminded by Starlite Productions, Inc., provided an experience that was super-sized and rich with visuals and sound on every level. No surprise, it drew a thunderous applause after the last image faded on the brick backdrop.
While a stunning production in its own right, more importantly “Mural in Motion” represents a powerful model of creative collaboration for mutual civic, artistic, and educational benefit. The partnership between the school and the Mural Arts Program was able to connect students to opportunities beyond their immediate neighborhoods and to provide opportunities for collaboration with peers and adults who are leaders in their fields.
At the reception for the premiere, the Mural Arts Program’s executive director Jane Golden honored the collaboration and said, “Springside Chestnut Hill Academy brings a level of rigor, partnership and collaboration and the opportunity to provide young people with new and exciting opportunities.”
In addition to this exotic mural initiative, Springside Chestnut Hill Academy had a bold presence at the ISTE conference with faculty and students who were selected to present on a variety of topics.
Kim Sivick, coordinator for Lower School Technology, offered a workshop for educators interested in establishing a global connection for students with a developing country; Jenn Vermillion, director of SCH Academy Professional Development, shared the school’s highly successful model for a student in-house Genius Bar – a team that runs faculty workshops, works one-on-one with teachers, and hosts help sessions for parents and teachers in the community to receive free tech tips and advice.
Peter Randall, chair of Robotics and Engineering, a new department at the school, spoke on leveraging robotics into a STEM-oriented project-based learning curriculum called “Design and Engineering” for high school students and “Challenge, Enrichment and Creativity” for Middle School students. Betty Ann Fish, chair of Physical Education, presented on connecting 21st-century skills with the PE program.
No matter the scale, pushing the technology edge and building bridges within the community and between institutions to make positive change for young people is in the DNA of Springside Chestnut Hill Academy.
For more information, videos, photos, and blog, please go to: http://muralinmotion.tumblr.com.