There was a palpable excitement in the air, as students, families, teachers and friends gathered on a cool fall evening to view Haines’ art students’ skate park mural project. There was food, music and catching up, as it was also one of the first community events since a recent COVID surge last month.
“It’s so nice. I’m so happy people are coming out here to come look at our pieces,” said senior Trygve Bakky, looking out over the large covered skate park, as skaters sail by and younger kids play on the ramps.
“We’ve been working on it since late August, early September. It was a whole class we all took, kind of describing the process of how do you spread artwork via graffiti, and how we do that legally? You know, write a proposal to the borough, kind of explain what we were doing,” Bakky said.
The class, led by art teacher Giselle Miller, and assisted by local artist Jeremy Setem, involved developing proposals with designs and budgets submitted to the borough. They studied the history of graffiti and street art, painting and spray-painting techniques, and executing their ideas.
Now, the walls and ramps are graced with distinct colorful paintings in different styles and sections.
“I worked on the universe painting over there, that was a lot of fun,” Bakky said, pointing across to a large ramp.
Beside the planets in orbit, there’s a large formline killer whale. It’s one of several artworks that were there previously and have been incorporated, like a multi-colored face painted by a Haines youth, Mario Benassi Jr., who died tragically in a river accident in California several years ago. There’s a new mural of Benassi beside it now, singing and playing guitar.
Freshman Hayden Jimenez said before, the skate park was kind of forgotten. There was trash and a lot of penis drawings. It was maybe even intimidating to some. Now, he said, it’s a lot more fun.
“Better energy in general of the skatepark,” Jimenez said. “Yeah, there’s some pretty cool and talented artists and art pieces.”
On one wall is a striking woman in profile, wearing a mask, shedding one dark blue tear.
“I really like pop art, so that was the inspiration for that,” said senior Aubrey Cook, the artist. She reflected on what it was like to display her work in a public space.
“I think it was so cool, I’ve never done any type of piece like this. Especially this big, I’ve never done a piece this big,” Cook said. “If you had come in here before, it was just a bunch of graffiti everywhere, with like inappropriate things, but now it’s like a really beautiful space. And we all learned that it’s a living, breathing space, which means eventually it’s going to get covered up by other peoples’ artwork, but we’re really thankful that we had this opportunity to paint.”
And it was a tough lesson. During the course project, some pieces were partially vandalized and had to be repainted. Art teacher Giselle Miller said there were apologies and the class addressed the situation together.
“That’s part of street art. That’s part of graffiti, is that it changes and evolves,” Miller said. “I think that teaching students that impermanence is also really important. I’ve done a couple big pieces and they’re not around anymore, so documenting is also really important and part of the process.”
Miller said she’s incredibly proud of their personal and artistic growth.
The community can view the students’ artwork now at the Haines skate park.