Bright colors and whimsical imagery will soon fill a 175-foot-long, 10-foot-high “dull concrete wall” at Selby Lane School in Atherton with the help of local artist Florence de Bretagne.
The Palo Alto resident has done over 100 murals in the Bay Area and is starting on a three-month-long mural project at Selby this month.
She recently launched a Kickstarter campaign to raise $20,000 toward upcoming art projects at Selby and two other local elementary schools: Hoover Community and Henry Ford. As of March 11, she had raised about $17,000.
These three schools are part of the Redwood City School District, which will undergo big changes next fall when four schools close and others merge because of budget cuts. Adelante Spanish Immersion School in Redwood City will be absorbed into the Spanish immersion program at Selby Lane.
“The whole community of principals, teachers, and families will have to adjust to this new situation,” de Bretagne wrote on her Kickstarter page. “This is why it is more important than ever to make the remaining schools look inviting, appealing, and warm.”
She has long known Warren Sedar, the principal at Selby Lane, who asked her to help with this latest mural on a space the artist describes as a "dull concrete wall." He’s asked her to paint birds and flowers, along with quotes in English and Spanish, on the wall of a building in the middle of campus, she said. (Half the students at Selby Lane are English-language learners, according to data from the California Department of Education.)
Murals can bring hope and joy to school communities that might not otherwise have the budget to fund such a project, she said. Students dealing with personal struggles often find solace in watching her paint and getting a permanent, colorful piece of art left at their school, she said.
“In a matter of days or weeks, you can completely transform a place,” said de Bretagne, a Paris native who moved to the United States 13 years ago.
She got her start painting murals at schools 10 years ago at Walter Hays School in Palo Alto, which both her children attended. Over the years her murals have spread through word of mouth, she said. She has since created murals at Oak Knoll School in Menlo Park, East Palo Alto Academy, Los Robles Magnet Academy in Redwood City and other local schools.
“It’s an amazing way to give back to the community and share my talent,” she said. “I’ve become a much better artist. It’s much more challenging to paint in the public place; hundreds of kids are staring at me when I paint.”
The students get to see all the hard work put into painting a mural, which instills a growth mindset in them, she wrote in her Kickstarter fundraiser, referring to a concept pioneered by psychologist Carol Dweck, which emphasizes the importance of effort and dedication to achievement. They also get to witness firsthand what it’s like to be an artist, which is an increasingly rare profession in Silicon Valley, she said.
At one East Palo Alto school, she painted children of different races holding hands.
“One student wrote to me and said he learned he could make friends very easily despite different cultural backgrounds,” she said.
Companies like Facebook, Apple and Salesforce have sent their employees to paint with de Bretagne as service projects. The mural projects are a “great way to build bridges among people” in the area who might not otherwise interact, she said.
The artist’s Kickstarter can be found here. The campaign ends on March 17.