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United Arts Council

Virtual Mural Was REAL Fun!

by Lisa McIntosh

Despite challenging times, artists and schools are 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 yearbut 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, and 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 creative thinking is connected to problem-solving, self-reflection, resiliency, and independence.

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

This year York Elementary found a big way to bring arts instruction to their school.  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 had to quickly shift 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.  

Last month students were given their own art bag filled with paintsbrushes, and a single Tyvek square to create their specific section of the bulldog mural at home.


The artists, Anna Podis 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 into the outline of the mural. 




After weeks of preparation, coordination and inspiration, York Elementary School faculty, students and parents were able to see the culmination of their Virtual Artist Residency.  The final stage of the residency was a drive-by unveiling of their newly created mural featuring their school mascot, the bulldog.


Many Artists in Schools programs have been successful this year. 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 safely return 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. 


PO Box 26388
Raleigh, NC 27611

Phone: (919) 839-1498
Fax: (919) 839-6002