The Blue-Ribbon Mural
The event to recognize P.S. 249 as one of only six New York City Schools to achieve National Blue Ribbon status began and concluded around a new mural, Weaving the World, that Caton School art club members created with Thrive Collective’s Sal Chen and Peach Tao.
As if a mirror held up to the day’s events, the brightly colored mural depicts students smiling, playing the violin, strumming the ukulele, singing, and dancing—all of which were present in student performances throughout the Blue-Ribbon ceremony.
Perhaps most reflective of the Caton School, the artwork features a long ribbon that centers around the Tree of Life. The ribbon careens outward, weaving past hearts and animal characters, books, flowers, maps, and other brightly colored details as it makes its way around students and teachers.
Like the mural’s ribbon, the interwoven community of support, love and care highlights the values emulated by Blue-Ribbon schools, which are chosen for their ability to, “articulate a vision of excellence and hold everyone to high standards” as “they stay close to the real action of teaching and learning,” (U.S. Department of Education).
Weaving the World
“This year is our second time back to the Caton School. In the year 2020 we came here for the first mural project. We only had classes with students for two weeks and then everything shut down,” said teaching-artist Peach. During the COVID-19 quarantine, Peach continued teaching classed online. However, due to restrictions, students were unable to help paint the mural in-person.
The new project was influenced by the New York City Cultural Immigrants Initiative Grant that supported it. “We wanted to combine the blue ribbon with culture. For the first five sessions…we talked about the world’s textile culture across five different continents,” Peach said. “The girl on the right side is weaving, and there’s DNA coming out of the loom.”
The mural wraps around the school’s entrance and one of the doors features a bright, golden crown, “We have a crown, and in the middle of the crown is the signature crown of the artist Jean-Michel Basquiat. We want everyone to feel like they have a crown on as they’re walking through the school.”
Community of Care
As artists cut the ribbon, the crowd threw confetti and cheered.
Afterwards, as Sal and Peach gathered in front of the mural with their students, school art teacher Ms. Yaffa said, “I feel like I’m going to cry…It’s an amazing accomplishment and we wouldn’t have been able to do this without Thrive.”
“It’s fabulous. I loved hearing Peach explain it,”added Principal Elisa Brown.
Ms. Emmanuella Aristil (Ms. A) shared the success of the community paint day that Thrive artists held one weekend. “We had a great turnout,” said Ms. A. Parents, grandparents, even security guards were at the community day.
Both art teachers are featured on the left side of the mural, dancing and smiling amidst the colorful work of their students. Ms. A said that the students loved learning about ribbons, and had “an amazing time” throughout the mural making process. Ms. Yaffa said the school “hit the jackpot” when Thrive sent Peach and Sal their way. Thrive artists “allowed students to have ownership over the work,” she said, adding that the imagery in the mural is all from student sketches.
A Warm Welcome
“It’s welcoming,” Ms. A says of the Weaving the World mural, “It fits the school’s personality.”
Principal Brown initially rejected Ms. Yaffa’s proposal to place the mural around the school entrance. However, after some persuading, Principal Brown relented.
As the day’s events came to a close Ms. Yaffa turned to Principal Brown, “I have one question for Ms. Brown—Do you regret letting us use this wall?”
Principal Brown beamed back at the mural, “Absolutely not!”