A few weeks ago a friend of mine was telling me about her daughter’s elementary school in Los Angeles. She explained that it was old, a special place with lots of history. Around the drinking fountains, for example, are remarkable mosaics that were installed by the Works Project Administration.
The Works Project Administration was established to provide jobs and infrastructure in the wake of the Depression. Bas reliefs on the outside of one of our high school buildings are examples of the public art people were paid to complete during the 40s. When we renovated our campus five years ago, we carefully protected those works, which are spaces of beauty on our functional buildings for everyone to enjoy.
Nowadays, such ambitious projects, meant purely to decorate, delight, and inspire, are rare. We live in a time of impermanence, when our treasured objects—computers and such—are replaceable and disposable. Architectural and decorative details are expensive and time consuming, while money and time are hard to find.
Therefore, the planets need to truly align for a gift of the magnitude and consequence of this modern-day mosaic project to materialize. There need to be people with vision. People who say “yes.” An artist who makes these projects her career—an artist who gives freely of her time and patience. There need to be teachers who invest in and inspire their students to such work as well as dedicate their own weekends and weeknights.
There need to be students who delay gratification. Who seek no individual recognition. Students who desire to be the parts whose sum is in fact greater than the whole.
We couldn't afford to pay the hands and hearts for their labor on this endeavor, which is only one reason it is priceless.
This art is, in my estimation, the work of cathedrals and pyramids: a gift to ourselves and our community and a lasting impression for generations. The students and staff who dedicated time, blood, and fingernails to 'The Cosmos' have more than its product to take away: they carry with them the experience of working together and the relationships and stories which unfolded under and above the archway to our school.
The rest of us, and those incredible students waiting to be known, will forever find a piece of ourselves in their universe.