East Ridge High School students create a new mural representing the spirit of their community.
When students, staff and visitors walk into the East Ridge High School (ERHS) activities entrance this fall, they’ll see a can’t-miss art installation that captures the spirit of the school. The new mural, which reaches almost to the ceiling, was led almost entirely by students, who designed, painted and installed the massive piece. “We’ve been speaking as a larger school community about how we need to represent more student voice in our school,” says art teacher Jessica Frisco, and the mural provided an opportunity to do just that.
The theme of the work is unity, and its centerpiece is four interlocking arms. “It really represents our slogan, ‘One East Ridge,’” says former art student Uke Udoh, who graduated from ERHS this past spring and worked on the painting and installation of the mural. In addition to the interlocking arms—for which a diverse group of ERHS students served as the models—the mural features a raptor (the school’s mascot) and a garden of native Minnesota wildflowers.
Rising senior Averi Bednar says, “The piece represents not wanting to leave anyone out and being an inclusive school.” Even the process of creating the mural was a meta example of that concept of unity; it took a true collaboration to bring the vision to life. “It was a really cool experience because I had never worked on anything that big,” Averi says. “Being able to contribute to something that size was unique for me as an artist.”
ERHS earned the opportunity to work with a visiting mural artist via Compass, an art advocacy nonprofit based in St. Paul. The process took more than a year and involved more than 100 students, as the mural was handed down from one group of Advanced Placement art students to the next. In spring 2022, a first group of students came up with a concept for the mural. After the design was finalized, “We started blocking in the design on parachute cloth,” Frisco says. “You can paint on the cloth on tables, and then adhere it to the wall when it’s finished, and it looks like it’s painted directly on the wall.” In this past school year, the next group of students worked on blocking in the colors and ultimately finished the installation in early November.
Averi remembers the logistical challenges of painting the mural. “I helped come up with the way that we ended up doing the painting style,” she says. “Because there were lots of different students helping who had different experiences and styles, we came up with a blockier style instead of doing blending and textures. We had to finalize one style to bring everything together.” Even then, students labored over repaints and adjustments when things didn’t quite line up.
The installation process was a learning experience, too. The silica gel used to adhere the mural to the wall “is really hard to get off clothes and shoes,” Uke says.
Art teacher Taylor Champoux says, “In a high school setting, this really brought kids together who normally wouldn’t have the opportunity to collaborate. It’s a very deep way of really having long hours and lots of focus put into something, so they can see the benefits of their work. When they graduate and look back, they’ll be able to have ownership of that experience.”
“The students also gained an appreciation for how much work goes into a large, collaborative piece,” Frisco says. “When they’re out looking at artwork in the community, they can have a better understanding and appreciation for that.”
The art faculty also enjoyed handing so much control and ownership to the students. “We learned to rely a lot on student voice and just assist them in implementing what they were envisioning,” Frisco says. “We just helped with the details. We were really happy that the kids got to leave a legacy at the school.”
Uke says, “It felt like a cool thing to be part of the school’s growing history and play a part in something that will be in our school for decades.” And what does Uke want the next generation of ERHS students to take away from the mural? “If you feel like there’s a group that’s not represented in our current mural, make another one,” he says. “There’s a lot of space around East Ridge that could have art in it, and I think that would be great for our future.”
When East Ridge High School is open for visitors—during activities and other public events—the mural can be found in the cafeteria near the activities entrance at 4200 Pioneer Drive.