Noe Valley Voice November 2009

Students in last year's second-grade art classes at Fairmount contributed the images and quite a few of the paint strokes for a mural that now hangs on a wall in front of the school's library. Teacher-artist Carlos Castillo, shown standing beside the completed mural above, is working with this year's students to create a new mural design.
Photo courtesy Carlos Castillo

School Report: The Many Hands in Carlos Castillo's Mural

By Tara Duggan

At first glance, the new mural across from the library at Fairmount School might just look like a handful of kids' paintings. But the mural, which is dominated by a central image of children flying around the earth, surrounded by cityscapes and natural environments, was a lot more complex to put together than it may seem, and captures the careful work of 60 budding artists.

Second-grade teacher Carlos Castillo completed the mural, titled "I Am Somebody," with all three second-grade classes last year, and he plans to complete an even more ambitious one this year. Castillo's project is one of the many arts programs funded in part by the San Francisco Unified School District, grants, and the Parent Teacher Association at Fairmount, a school known for its Spanish-English immersion program.

A practicing sculptor, Castillo has helped create several murals in the Mission District, where he grew up. He studied sculpture as an undergraduate at the University of San Francisco and received his master of fine arts degree from the California College of Arts and Crafts (now called California College of the Arts).

At school one day last month, Castillo showed off the large black-and-white image that the library mural had been based on. First, he said, the second-graders had created drawings--some were self-portraits, others depicted plants and trees, others buildings. Castillo cut out each drawing and enlarged or reduced it on a photocopier to fit the scale of the mural.

After attaching all of the images onto a large piece of white paper, he photographed the final image and then projected it onto a wall where the mural's two panels were held in place. He spent a weekend sketching the drawings onto the panels by hand. Later, he and his partner, muralist Tiffany Graham, helped the students paint the panels and then proudly attach them to the school wall.

This year, Castillo is integrating science with art by having the students draw insects for a mural along a garden wall outside the second-grade classrooms. The students are bringing their sketchbooks on field trips to the Randall Museum, the Conservatory of Flowers, and the California Academy of Sciences to practice drawing insects. In the spring, Castillo will repeat the same process to bring the mural to life.

"It will be a green project, so we're writing grants to get nontoxic paints," said Castillo.

Castillo is one of many teachers at Fairmount who share their artistic passions with the students. Kindergarten teacher Alison Cerrudo spearheaded the effort to bring in capoeira teacher Antonio Contreras from Abada-Capoeira San Francisco for weekly classes. Because the Brazilian art form is a combination of music, martial arts, and dance, it satisfies several different district requirements at once.

This year, the school has begun working with Leap, a 30-year-old arts education nonprofit. Instructor Kevan Peabody, who has a background in gospel, is teaching the students music.

Fairmount also has an after-school choir for all grades, as well as visual arts and science-through-gardening classes. The San Francisco Opera, Ballet, and Symphony also offer programs each year.

Like the separate drawings in the mural, these arts programs come together to create a diverse cultural experience for each student.


Fairmount Elementary School
Mary Lou Cranna, Principal
65 Chenery Street at Randall

Alvarado Elementary School
Robert Broecker, Principal
625 Douglass Street at Alvarado Street

James Lick Middle School
Bita Nazarian, Principal
1220 Noe Street at 25th Street

Mission Education Center
Deborah Molof, Principal
1670 Noe Street at Noe Street