Visitors to the Palo Alto Art Center and the Rinconada Library are getting a fun, colorful welcome these days: A dense cityscape and a lush forest have sprung up near the Newell Road entrance to the complex, all brought to life by the hands of a friendly artistic character who seems to reside between the city and the wild.
This vibrant world appears in a mural created by the Palo Alto Art Center's first mural-making class for teens. The mural, which was unveiled on Saturday, Dec. 18, hangs on the fence outside the art center's classrooms, facing the Rinconada Library.
The class brought together 10 teens ages 12 to 18 this fall to collaboratively design and paint a mural. San Francisco-based artist Corey Pang, who goes by the artist name Sidy, led the class.
"Creating art is the overall theme, where we have the character in his bear hat, painting the city a rainbow color," Sidy said. "It's hard to get 10 ideas together, so we all made compromises and it was an interesting process."
The class included not only the essentials of creating a mural, but also background about public art.
"We started the class with an introduction to murals and public art and how it plays a role, so the kids could understand what makes public art and what a positive impact it has on the community, how it can be made and the different types of public art," he said.
Sidy works in a variety of media, including digital, watercolor, acrylic paint and spray paint. He has worked extensively with murals, including many collaborative projects as a third of the Pineapple Dream Team, with fellow artists Stay Bacon and Nite Owl, and in the annual Powwow Hawaii mural event, collaborating with many different local artists. Murals that Sidy has created or collaborated on can be seen around the Bay Area, including in Oakland and San Jose, as well as the islands of Hawaii.
He came to teach the class through a call for artists put out jointly by the Palo Alto Art Center and San Jose arts nonprofit Local Color.
"One of our goals in the Children's Fine Art Department here at the Art Center is that we're always looking for new teaching artists to expand the media that students are able to experiment with and also looking for a diverse range of teaching artists," said Lucy Larson, education director for the Palo Alto Art Center. Larson reached out to Local Color, which has extensive contacts with Bay Area muralists, to partner on the project.
The new mural's location at the Palo Alto Art Center helped inspire the general theme of the piece, which also has strong nods to California, with depictions of redwood trees, poppies and more subtly, bears, as in the character's bear hat.
To better facilitate the collaboration, Sidy said he asked the students what types of subjects they wanted to paint, and grouped them accordingly, with a group interested in nature, another in cities and landscapes and a third that wanted to paint characters.
Once the design was sketched, the students also worked in groups to paint the piece. The mural is painted on two large pieces of plywood, which facilitated mounting the mural on the center's fence, but also made it easier to divide the tasks.
"We would split them into two groups. If it was (spray painted) we needed to spray it outside and then the other students would hand paint it on the inside of the classroom. So there was a trade off and they were really good about being flexible and just helping each other on what needed to get done," Sidy said.
Although these students worked together in the same space to create the mural, inspiration for the class came partly from a well-received mural project that the Palo Alto Art Center organized with its teen leadership group while stay-at-home orders were in effect last year, Larson said. Participants painted individual canvases at home and brought them all together to make one large piece, which is now hanging in the teen room at the Rinconada Library.
"I think after the year that we have had, having kids come together to talk and share ideas, brainstorm together and then work together, side by side, it's just been really exciting to see them coming together for a project like this," Larson said, noting that so much of the experience since the pandemic has been about working on one's own, on isolated projects.
Sidy said that he hopes students not only learned something new and enjoyed the process, but gained a new perspective on what art can be.
"I hope they enjoyed creating public art, and just have an appreciation for murals. … To put in the work, the effort and make your ideas come to life — I want them to get that fulfillment from start to finish," Sidy said, noting that he also hopes students learn that a work of art doesn't have to exist within a certain scale, on a small canvas or paper.
"They could take that idea and transform it onto a giant wall or a piece of plywood. So just to show them that there are different canvases that can be used, and it doesn't have to be 'just so' or be one dimension."
The Palo Alto Art Center will be offering two more mural-making classes for youth this winter, both taught by Sidy, with one class offered for younger students, ages 9 to 12, and the other for students ages 12 to 18. Each class has a maximum of 12 students. As with this first mural, the completed pieces produced in each class will be installed at a public location for all to enjoy. Larson said she's working on finalizing the locations for those new works.