If you haven’t driven up Tyler Street recently, you need to go. You can’t miss the newest creation by some of Oak Cliff’s very talented artists. . . under the age of 20, that is.

Drive by 411 N. Tyler, near Eighth Street, and you’ll see what we mean. On August 11, the Mural Art Program unveiled its latest creation, a striking mural montage featuring Oak Cliff’s artistic past, including artists such as Stevie Ray Vaughan. The scene is mostly midnight blue, thrown into focus by the bright orange glow of a movie projector. The only thing more impressive than the mural is the tender age of its artists.

Commissioned by building owner and CliffDweller Linda Holt of Square Foot, Inc., and painted this summer by six teenagers, the mural was produced through the same program that brought us the murals found throughout the Bishop Arts District. Booker T. Washington High, coincidentally, is home to four of the talented painters: juniors Karen Aguilar, Mario Avendaño, Maria Cortes, and Kevin Houlahan.

Avendaño is the veteran of the group, having participated in the program since it began four years ago. Aguilar and Houlahan share studio space at new student-run gallery La Vie Boheme in the Bishop Arts District. Houlahan’s work can also be seen in the gallery.

The other two participants, Francisco Sanchez (Sunset High, ‘07) and Joshua Watson (Duncanville High, ‘06), served as apprentices to the program, and attend Eastfield Community College and Mountain View Community College, respectively. They have each been involved with the program for several years as well.

The Mural Art Program is jointly sponsored by Arte Oak Cliff and the Dallas Museum of Art. Participants are chosen out of a pool of applicants and must be ages 14-18; not only do the chosen artists receive a stipend for their efforts but they also spend as much time researching as they do painting. The young artists worked with lead muralists Elizabeth Amaro and Julio Flores to design and implement the project. And the program also incorporates historical information about murals in American culture as well as teaches the students small business skills.

Amaro says that, to complete a project like this, the elements must be broken into phases. The first large portion involves creating a design that is compatible with the client’s tastes. After discussing ideas with Holt, who wanted to focus on art in Oak Cliff, the students broke into two groups to begin sketching ideas. The groups presented and revised a series of ideas before coming up with a final design for the mural.

The long process helps incorporate each student’s ideas into the final design in addition to teaching more general professional skills. “I feel this process helps the students
see the mural as a group effort,” Amaro explains, “while they also learn to talk about the work in front of a group, manage their time, give constructive advice about art and communicate with the client.”

The second phase focuses on getting the design enlarged, and painted on the mural surface. Community volunteers are often recruited at this point to help with the less skilled painting tasks. And then there are the very practical considerations of painting outdoors; Amaro reminds, “You have to be aware of your environment. If you’re painting outside, stay hydrated.”

Having been involved with the Mural Art Program for three years, Amaro has produced her own art in and around the Cliff for years. She painted her first mural when she was 13 years old, and has been producing art and teaching others ever since.
She finds working with the Mural Art Program extremely rewarding. “The students came in as shy high school students and came out as bold, articulate muralists, capable of doing whatever they put their effort into,”  she says.

One side of a building at a time, the Mural Arts Program, and all the talented kids who participate in it, are helping to maintain the Cliff’s unique artistic vibe. Despite the many changes taking place in the area, it’s nice to know we’ll always have these murals reminding us of the community tradition that brought many of us here in the first place.