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United Arts Council

Virtual Mural Was REAL Fun!

by Lisa McIntosh

Despite the challenges of a global pandemic, artists and schools are still finding ways to bring extraordinary arts programming to Wake County students. The Artists in Schools program at United Arts may look and feel different this school year, but the goal is the same: To help schools hire professional teaching artists who offer curriculum-based arts instruction for students in grades K-12.

With the flood of information changing daily, school leaders had to quickly adapt to incorporate equitable, accessible, and quality online learning for their students. During these uncertain times, the arts could have easily taken a back seat. Luckily, many educators, such as Principal Katherine Williams at York Elementary, know the intrinsic value of arts integration in their schools. They know that creative thinking connects students to problem-solving, self-reflection, resiliency, and independence.

In a “normal” school year, a lot of work goes on behind the scenes before a performance or residency ever comes to a school, and switching to a virtual platform presented schools and artists with additional obstacles to overcome. Artists quickly shifted from hands-on teaching and live, in-person performances to using unfamiliar and sometimes unreliable technology to move their programs online. The PTA volunteers and teachers had to communicate additional logistics and then learn how to monitor and encourage student participation, both online and in the classroom.

This year York Elementary found a big way to bring arts instruction to their school. During the first stage of the artist residency, students received their own art bag filled with paints, brushes, and a single Tyvek square to create their specific section of the bulldog mascot mural at home.


Teaching artists, Anna Podris and Keith Norval, provided the students with instructional videos for each color palette, complete with tips on layering, design, and how painting can relieve stress if you do it correctly! Then the parents and teachers collected the completed squares, and the artists placed them on the outline of the mural.




After weeks of preparation, coordination, and inspiration, York Elementary faculty, students, and parents were able to see the culmination of their virtual artist residency. The final stage of the project was a drive-by unveiling of their newly created mural featuring their school mascot, the bulldog. Many families drove by with big smiles and air fist bumps, aka (bull)dog pounds, for the principal and artists. Some masked up for a closer look. Next school year, the students will be able to see their masterpiece installed inside as they walk by with pride to their classrooms.

Cultural Arts Representative, Ann Goldfinch, said, “We are so lucky at York to have a principal who is committed to arts experiences for all, a PTA who is supportive, great art and music teachers, and a cultural arts committee who could make this residency happen for our children!”


Many Artists in Schools programs have been successful transitioning to a virtual format this year. Students have experienced everything from storytelling and bluegrass performances to week-long writer and artist residencies. Each adapted program is different from the original, but many schools and artists report they are reaching larger audiences with virtual programming by including curious parents and multi-grade levels.

Hopefully, one day soon, teaching artists will be able to return safely to the schools and teach students live and in-person through their artform. Until that day, United Arts applauds all the parents, teachers, and principals who are working hard to bring Artists in Schools programs to their schools and the students who continue to learn and have fun on any platform.

Additional Information on Artists in Schools Program:  

At forty-one years strong, United Arts provides noncompetitive grants to schools to help provide Artists in Schools programs for their staff and students. This flagship program places professional teaching artists in K-12 schools for curriculum-based performances, workshops, and residencies. These programs help students learn to problem-solve, work together, and seek creative means toward common goals. In the 2019-2020 school year, the Artists in Schools program worked with 108 artists or arts groups in 154 schools throughout Wake County reaching 130,000 students. Programs included 46 weeks of writer residencies, 99 arts residencies or workshops, and 258 music, dance, and theatre performances, including nine in-school International Bluegrass Festival performances. High schools in Wake County received 12 days of master classes in theatre, music, and/or visual art. 

Photo Credit: Lisa McIntosh


PO Box 26388
Raleigh, NC 27611

Phone: (919) 839-1498
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