South Bend primary center beautified

Author: Kim Kilbride, South Bend Tribune

Posted in the South Bend Tribune on Monday, September 29

By Kim Kilbride, South Bend Tribune


SOUTH BEND – A group of fourth-grade girls and their mentors from the University of Notre Dame women’s soccer team buddied up under warm, sunny skies Friday morning to paint big, vibrantly-colored flowers on a brick wall near the entrance to Perley Primary Fine Arts Academy.

The Perley students painted the petals and the Notre Dame students painted the stems.

“I’m doing my own design,” Aylwin Hendrickson, a fourth-grader said. “I think it’s really fun.”

It’s part of the first phase of a very public art project that’s unfolding at the school. The “main entrance,” a drab brick space that's actually at the rear of the school, is being transformed into a rounded Roman courtyard.

“The Perley Project,” as it’s been dubbed, began a week ago. And already, 200 volunteers have been involved.

The first phase consists of what will be a 46,000 –square- foot mural flanking the entrance walkway to the school and a tiled mosaic courtyard.

After receiving $50,000 from the family of Maude Perley, the school’s namesake, Perley officials commissioned local artist Chris Stachowicz, whom also did the mural under the Indiana 933 bridge, to design the mural.

Along with his own paid staff, Stachowicz, who is the art department chairman at Holy Cross College, has also organized volunteers, sought donations and participated in daily work on the project, which was born after Stachowicz was connected with Jill VanDriessche, Perley’s principal, in June through a mutual acquaintance.

Being a fine arts academy, Stachowicz said, it’s important the school building be alive with creativity and passion.

As for the entrance mural, he said, “It’s not just an image on the wall. It’s really intended to make the space disappear.”

In addition to the volunteers, VanDriessche said, it’s her goal that every Perley student will have touched the entrance project with a paintbrush by the time it’s done on Nov. 7.

She said she’s been overwhelmed by the amount of assistance that’s already been offered by community members, from retired teachers to business owners to members of Girl Scouts troops and others.

“The goal,” she said, “is that everybody understands their part in educating children.”

Other phases of beautification of the school, which are slated to all be completed this school year, involve painting each locker to look like the spine of a book, painting the hallways to look like famous halls, like The Hall of Mirrors at the Palace of Versailles, tearing out the chain link fence that surrounds the playground and separating it from the park that’s behind the school with a picket fence hand painted by community members and transforming the green space in front of the school into gardens that look like Van gogh’s “Starry Night.”

It’s an ambitious project, but Stachowicz said he’s confident volunteers will continue coming together to see it through.

“Technically,” he said, “I’m a public artist. But, I organize my art so it’s community driven and community based.”

While most parts of the design are established, other parts are fluid, he said. That means, volunteer artists have the opportunity to use their own talents.

But having artistic talent is not a prerequisite for helping out.

Stachowicz said he’ll find a task – outlining bricks, for example – for even those who are the most clumsy with a paintbrush.

Anyone wishing to help out by making a cash or materials donation or volunteering can call the school office at (574) 283-8735 or join the Facebook page “The Perley Project.”

Stachowicz said the biggest challenge with a community-based art project as big as the one at Perley is managing all of the moving parts, from volunteer work schedules to donations.

But, “It’s fun how organic it is,” he said, “People really kind of flock to that concept.”