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Teen mural project adds color to the Springs

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This fall, 20 Sonoma teens will get the opportunity to create something wall-to-wall fantastic.

Collaborating with renowned spray paint artist Chor Boogie, the group of teens will plan, create and execute a large outdoor mural on a south-facing wall at Republic of Thrift, along Highway 12.

Choosing a theme that resonates throughout Sonoma, the mural will focus on pride and healing in the community, as well as Sonoma history and family.

“The mural is a really great opportunity for Sonoma teens to expand their horizons,” said Chor Boogie. “Spray paint as a medium allows them to learn something new – something outside of what they’re being taught in school, and in life.”

The mural project is sponsored by the Sonoma Valley Museum of Art, thanks to a grant the museum received from the National Endowment for the Arts, as part of the Challenge America category, which offers NEA support for projects that extend the reach of the arts to underserved populations. Chor Boogie is serving as the project’s artist-in-residence.

Boogie, a.k.a. Joaquin Lamar Hailey, is a critically-acclaimed spray paint artist whose visionary murals and art exhibitions have appeared all over the world, including such venues as the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games, the Smithsonian Institute, and a host of museums. Recently honored as one of the Top Ten U.S. street artists by art-and-culture website Société Perrier, Boogie’s clients have included Google, Playboy and the Ritz Carlton, and his portraits have been commissioned by the likes of Hugh Hefner, Jay Z, Prince, Lady Sovereign, Wu-Tang Clan, Rage Against the Machine and N.W.A.

Dianne Aoki is the manager of education and community engagement at the Sonoma Valley Museum of Art. She talked excitedly about the teen mural project.

“Receiving the grant was actually a big surprise for us,” said Aoki. “We had received go-ahead for the project from both our community members and Chor in advance of writing the grant. We were ecstatic when it was awarded.”

The initial grant of $10,000 from the NEA is being matched by funds from two other groups, for a total of $30,000.

Community organizations coming together to work on the project include Art Escape, teen club members from the Boys & Girls Club, the Sonoma Teen Services, the Mentoring Alliance, and the Sonoma Valley High School art department.

“In fact, the entire Teen Mural Project would not be possible without Art Escape’s partnership,” said Aoki. “Kate Ortolano enthusiastically culled participating teens from a cadre of Art Escape students who now make up the bulk of the project. The museum is grateful to be working in partnership with all the many talents they – and everyone else – bring to the table.”

A meeting and design session between the teens, Boogie and the collaborating parties kicked off at SVMA one recent Friday evening in August. From there, Robyn Muscardini, regional coordinator with the art-education nonprofit Visual Thinking Strategies, which offers teaching strategies for visual projects, will lead a workshop with the group. Having run many such events in the past, Muscardini says the workshop will be a great icebreaking tool, allowing the teens to warm up to one another and share thoughts and ideas while viewing, discussing, evaluating and seeking understanding of various works of art.

The mural project will take several weeks, continuing until the middle of October. The group gathers for four hours at a time on Saturdays or Sundays.

Boogie, originally from San Diego, now lives in San Rafael with his wife, performance artist Elizabeth Bast, making the commute a little bit easier.

“We’ve spent the first few sessions on design,” said Boogie, who plans to follow that with the large-scale prep work, logistics for creating a mural and, finally, the actual painting.

“There are so many different standards of learning art forms,” said Boogie. “This experience will help the teenagers come away with new ideas. It is going to be amazing.”