By Jessica Harden
College Park Academy (CPA) held a ribbon cutting ceremony on Oct. 7 to celebrate new hallway murals created and installed by Jennifer Byrne, owner of branding company Live.Create.Play. Byrne’s murals include references to the University of Maryland’s the College of Education and College of Engineering.
“We wanted to sort of inspire and educate the students … [about opportunities] in these individual colleges,” Byrne said.
The murals include archival photos of UMD students in the 1920s, quotes from historical figures and highlights of accomplishments of university alumni. Byrne also incorporated elements of current culture and technology, including the image of a Ferrari and a nod to virtual reality.
The murals also pose questions intended to encourage students to think about their future.
“When you engage with the art, it asks you a question about yourself, and then it asks you, ‘what can you imagine,’” Duane Arbogast, CPA’s strategic consultant, said. “Then you see what has come before you, so you stand on the shoulders of people who have come before us. To take those themes and to create a visual imagery is really quite striking.”
Representatives of the school community, including staff and board members, attended the ribbon cutting. It was the first gathering the school had held since the start of the pandemic, according to Sandy Abu-Arja, CPA executive director.
“I felt that the atmosphere was very dynamic; you could just hear different perspectives with our community members engaging with our students,” Abu-Arja said. “The students … were just actively engaged in conversation, not only about the art murals, but about their pride in College Park Academy.”
Byrne said that the atmosphere in the school was full of energy when she was installing the artwork. She said the students were happy to help and excited to be there.
Students can display their own work on magnetic boards alongside the murals, an element that Byrne endorses.
“It becomes the story that they want to tell, and they can get more ownership over the school,” Byrne said.
Ellen Slobodnik, the academic dean at CPA, said she’s excited about the change in the hallways and the positive energy the artwork is bringing to the school.
“The dull gray walls are not the best environment for students,” she noted. ”We want them to feel inspired. We want them to feel welcome, and I think this is definitely the right start.”
CPA plans to have more murals brightening the school’s halls over time that depict the other 10 colleges at the university.
“To invest in art, it shows a different kind of value because what you invest in shows what you care about,” Arbogast said. “I argue that art, in many ways, is more accessible … with art, anyone can engage in it and interact with it.”