"We wanted to think big and show off the youth of Philadelphia, to showcase student-generated art that makes use of the latest technology, and to create something that has high impact," said Ellen Fishman-Johnson, director of new media at Springside Chestnut Hill Academy.
If a sensory explosion that is 10 stories high and 40 feet wide doesn't do it, it's hard to imagine what would.
Parts of the presentation are linear and straightforward, parts are psychedelic and stroboscopic, as though a merry band of cubists, Dadaists, and surrealists, with access to computers, decided to portray Philadelphia in a way that sizzles the synapses.
In recent years, the walls of city buildings have been enlivened with other projections, but "Mural in Motion" is the first student-produced spectacle. It's the fruit of a collaboration among nine young people - four students at SCH and five recent alumni of Mural Corps, a skills-development and fine-arts mentorship program for high school students sponsored by the City of Philadelphia Mural Arts Program.
"What makes this so interesting is that it has animation and text and a story line, and it's really the kids who have been involved in the entire process of creating this piece," said Jane Golden, executive director of the Mural Arts Program.
The animated mural is an example of "expanding muralism in the 21st century" by incorporating light, sound, and new technology, Golden said. It's also a model of the kind of collaborative exchange that breaks down social barriers and promotes creativity, innovation, and civic engagement.
"I'm proud I was part of something like this," said Ramik Accooe, 22, a graduate of Overbrook High School who burnished his artistic skills in the Mural Corps. "I'm happy with how we took our own styles of art and put them together. I hope people enjoy it."
Fishman-Johnson conceived the project after attending the technology educators' convention last year in Denver. She noticed a dismaying dearth of student-created art and sought to remedy that lack when the group convened in Philadelphia.
She broached the idea to Golden, and the Mural Arts Program eagerly signed on. Eric Okdeh, a veteran muralist and Mural Corps leader, recruited talented corps alums, while Fishman-Johnson enlisted students in her advanced video-production class.
Work on the project began in January. A major challenge was the projection surface, a brick wall punctuated by 24 rectangles of contrasting gray stucco. "The whole idea was to create a mural that is site-specific," Fishman-Johnson said.
In early April, the young digital artists met with neighborhood business and community leaders - representatives of hotels, the police, the Reading Terminal Market, the Convention Center - to hear their ideas. One request that came through loud and clear: Show Philly as a vibrant, happening place, a city with a youthful vibe and hip personality that transcends such cliches as the Liberty Bell, soft pretzels, and cheesesteaks.
The students pooled their own ideas, and from that seeming chaos themes and directions emerged. They began collecting images and video snippets of life in the city and taking on tasks that suited their particular talents - animation, green screening, directing, performing on camera, etc. - all the while mastering such software tools as Motion, Photoshop, and Final Cut Pro. With the help of GarageBand, each composed a musical score or soundtrack; Fishman-Johnson, a professional composer, tweaked and blended them.
Along the way, the students learned important lessons about communication and collaboration. "The process is as important as the product because that's where so much of the learning has happened," said Karen Kolkka, Springside's Lower School technology coordinator, who has been documenting the making of the mural.
(You can read all about it at the creators' Tumblr, a blog with bells and whistles - http://muralinmotion.tumblr.com. The mural contains a QR code that, when read by a smartphone, will zip spectators directly to this site.)
"It gave me the chance to experience something new and learn something new and be around new people," said Briana Dawkins, 21, a sophomore at Philadelphia University.
While scrambling to finish the mural last week, its creators paused for their first look at a rough cut. They were pleased.
"I'm proud of the way it has really come together," said Deirdre Braun, 17, an SCH senior-to-be. "It embodies all the murals you see around the city."
"It shows off unique aspects of the city in a unique way" said Stephen Skeel, 16, an SCH junior-to-be.
Elizabeth Sedran, 17, an SCH senior-to-be who tackled the challenge of animating the rectangles (in her words, "bringing the squares to life"), was satisfied that she'd achieved her goal.
"I was trying to make people forget that they're in a parking lot and looking at a wall. I want them to feel like they're walking through a pop-up book. I want to take them to a different place."
Fishman-Johnson's assessment: "Exceptional student work."
"When you work with students, there's so much energy, and it's different from adult energy," she said. "We were able to mine that and create something that's uniquely fresh and young."
For a video of the "Mural in Motion" team, go to www.philly.com/muralmotion
Mural in Motion
The eight-minute presentation, accompanied by a soundtrack, will be projected onto a wall of the Fabric Workshop and Museum, near 12th and Arch Streets, at 8:30 p.m. Sunday.
Contact staff writer Art Carey at 215-854-5606 or email@example.com.