FORT BRAGG, Calif. – A public art project was underway on the aging chain-link fence lining the driveway next to Purity Market. This project will complement the plan for public murals in the town of Fort Bragg. At least eight of the city’s lanes now have finished goods. This fence art artistically represents the creative ideas of students attending Noyo High School, a separate alternative education program for local high school students.
The art project will also fulfill an essential part of the school’s mission to immerse its students in the wider community. By its very nature, public art is instantly accessible to everyone. Although unfinished at the time, curious people walked around daily to interact with the students and support their efforts.
Financially supported by the Mendocino County Arts Council and local artists, owners, businesses and organizations. Fort Bragg’s The Alleyway Art Project is led by Arts Council Board Member Lia Morsell. Morsell took Eric Forrester, a teacher at Noyo High School, and his students on an alley art tour to recap a unit Forrester had just taught on art therapy and mental health.
Morsell offered students the opportunity to take on the next available public art project involving Tyvek and chain-link fences. The offering represented everything Forrester had developed over time with its students. They could artistically present their diversity to the community and become a visually inclusive part of it. Tyvek proved too difficult to obtain. The old banners would be just as weatherproof and provide the color needed to enhance the designs.
The group was assigned to the fence marking the rear of the Purity Market car park. Students from Noyo High School then designed ambitious designs and hand-crafted weaving through 470 square feet of chain links. Even more thought-provoking, the designs were created with hand-cut strips of recycled banners donated with the help of Braggadoon Signs & Graphics at Fort Bragg.
None of the five students knew what chain link fence art looked like or how to design it. They learned by doing. The art project became an example of the “Big Picture Learning” mission at the alternative school. “This project is really important for students,” Forrester said. The students knew their goal was to create something for the public to enjoy. Additionally, they were experimenting with art as a form of communication, a new way of interacting with others. Although teacher Eric Forrester started the project with fourteen volunteers, he led a group of five who have remained committed for the past two weeks.
Big Picture Learning offers an alternative method of schooling for students who seek to be at the center of their learning. Students engage in the real world through internships, community projects, and part-time jobs. School staff help them design a program around their interests. Of course, academic lessons are also included in the daily teaching. After graduation, students can continue their education through a federal coursework program designed to lead to meaningful employment and decent pay.
The students working on the project certainly had real life experiences while working on their designs. Forrester noted that people were coming in asking questions about the close and providing “instant feedback” and “they’re not constantly on their phones looking for feedback there.” The students saw how a friendly local business can step in and provide materials to get them started. They learned what it takes in terms of effort, cooperation, and follow-up from classmates to do the hands-on work. They also learned that not everyone appreciated the vision expressed in some of their art.
This art project remained ongoing for some time and students returned to it when time was available. Admirers were still regular visitors, but the nights made the project vulnerable to interference from vandals. Unfortunately, the students returned one day to find a section of the fence stripped of its design, with the banner strips in a heap. Their teacher told them, “We’re not going to let him defeat us. We will make our way. The students saw the vandalism as someone’s response to the message woven into this section of the fence. Someone had taken the time to tear up the banner strips for the letters “BLM”, referring to “Black Lives Matter”.
Cindy Acosta, who had worked on the project from the start, considered the vandalism deliberate. “It was overwhelming. It made me angry,” she said. “I don’t understand how people can do such a thing,” she added. She commented, “I think people should just mind their own business. If they don’t like something, they have nothing to do or say about it. They should just walk away.
Acosta tried to make sense of the destructive behavior but was left unsettled from an experience contrary to what the project represented to her classmates. “There are people like that here,” she concluded. “You can’t really change their minds. I think they should be able to leave things alone rather than destroy what we have done,” she added.
Now she continued to weave strips through the links of the chain as her classmates worked on different patterns further up the fence. His artistic vision was a scene of the sun above steep mountains. Anyone who walks by and takes a look at the fence can now clearly see that it has accomplished its mission. In the vulnerable and open fencing area, Acosta gave the community a small part of herself woven with faith and deliberate care. His classmates had done it too.