Thirty Forbes Middle School students left class at noon Friday to head to the HOPE Outdoor Gallery, where they spent the rest of their school day painting a mural honoring the 17 victims of the Parkland, Fla., school shooting.
The advanced art students said they wanted their work to send a message of love and support for those affected by the shooting. Eighth-grader Maggie Phelps said the mural, called “17 Birds,” is a way for students like her to speak to the community about the incident.
“It means a lot to me to show love in hard times like this, because I’m from Florida,” said Phelps, who lived in Tampa. “If we’d never moved, it could have been my high school.”
Phelps and her family moved from Florida to Texas in 2008, and she said she is happy to help represent the state in a time of need.
“There needs to be change that’s made,” Phelps said. “People need to understand that … these things wouldn’t happen if we loved instead of hated.”
Seventeen people were killed in the shooting two weeks ago at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. Since then, students in Florida and elsewhere have spoken out against gun violence.
Forbes art teacher Karla Grzymala said this is the second time her class has traveled from the school in Georgetown to Austin to work on a mural at the outdoor gallery. The colorful image, with contrasting student-made black and white digital graphics pasted on top of the paint, was designed with help from Austin artist Jay Muzacz.
“We kind of talked back and forth on how to make it a good statement piece without making it too obvious,” Grzymala said. “It’s really representative of breaking through the bad and overcoming with the good, because there’s still good people out there.”
Austin resident Jan Irsfeld was showing two visiting friends around the graffiti park when she saw the kids working on the mural.
“It brought tears to my eyes,” Irsfeld said. “I was fine until (someone) told me why they were doing it, and now I’m kind of messed up.”
Muzacz said he and Grzymala hoped making the mural would be fun for the kids, but also said they wanted to help the students send a message.
“We do this part, and it’s up to the public to do what they want with it,” Muzacz said. “We all have the choice on what we put out in the public. It matters, you know? I think some people forget that sometimes.”
Between two painted white doves, students pasted papers with messages such as “Stop school shootings” and “You couldn’t save them, but you can save us.”
“It’s really cool that we’re a part of something really great and very big,” said eighth-grader Maeve Lloyd. “I’m just glad we can help.”