Education Challenge Blog / EforAll Teacher Innovates through the Arts

Eric Allshouse has always loved making art. He loved it even more when he saw the power in sharing it with others. “Until I began teaching art, I did not realize how fun and exciting it was,” says Eric. “To help unleash the creativity in an individual is a very empowering process.  It helps them imagine a whole new world that they never knew before.”

Eric has been teaching art to students for the last five years. He started out as a drawing teacher at the Essex Art Center. Currently, he teaches visual arts at the Humanities and Leadership Development High School in Lawrence. Last August, he heard about the Sandbox Education Innovation Challenge, a program that gives teachers in the Lawrence Public Schools small grants to try out innovative approaches inside and outside the classroom.  At the time, he was teaching a course on mural painting, and thought there could be a way to connect his passion of teaching arts to the Sandbox program. “A few years back when I was in Philadelphia, I remember seeing their Mural Arts Program where youth from around the city had the opportunity to create murals in run down areas. From that, I wanted to give students in Lawrence an opportunity to transform vacant lots and graffiti plagued areas into beautiful murals that would inspire the community.”

Eric applied to the Sandbox and received $494 to turn his idea of the Lawrence Mural Program into a reality.  He used the funding to purchase paint, brushes, and ladders. He teamed up with the Essex Art Center as well as Valley Works, an employment center that draws on a federal grant to pay the teens wages for their work. “Eleven students and I worked six 25 hour weeks to create two concrete handball wall murals (16’x20′) and two large brick wall murals (9’x70′) and (13’x90′). From picking the themes to painting the murals, the students have driven the whole process!”

Students have picked various subject matters that are meaningful to them including Lauryn Hill, Aaliyah, and Robert Frost. “This summer I decided to join the project,” says Cindy Avila, a student at the Business, Management, and Finance School in Lawrence. “We had a meeting, sketched everything out, and picked which artists we would depict on the murals. We are doing this to make the city look better and eliminate graffiti.”

Since these murals have been up, there has been no graffiti in these areas, and community members have thanked Eric and his students for their efforts. The project even caught the attention of the Eagle Tribune who wrote up a great article about the mural project. Eric plans to keep this program running for years to come and get more students in Lawrence involved. “This was an unforgettable opportunity for me and these students,” says Eric. “The project will help them tap into their creativity while having the opportunity to earn wages to help themselves and their families. In the long-term we hope the murals will help instill a sense of community pride within Lawrence”

If you would like to learn more about the Lawrence Mural Program, check out this great video by Lawrence Public Schools documenting the project: