Art installation teaches students 'to see something bigger than themselves'

Art installation teaches students 'to see something bigger than themselves'

URBANA — On the Webber Street fence outside Campus Middle School for Girls, the phrase "You Are Beautiful" projects outward with bursts of bright color.

Although it can be viewed as a quick, feel-good phrase, Traci Pines hopes it comes across with more substance.

"When you're in middle school, there's a lot of dark spots in your day," said the visual arts educator. "You want to come across bright spots."

Inspired by a series of "You Are Beautiful" public art installations that started in Chicago, Pines had her school's 45 students collaborate on the fence message for their most recent year-long art project.

The girls split up into groups that each tackled a different wood letter of the phrase. They were allowed to use a variety of materials and themes, which resulted in everything from space to handprints to a bunny.

Twelve-year-old Tara Armas worked on the "Y" with her group. She said the theme was makeup, and a variety of foundations were included to represent different skin tones.

"It was about how makeup can give you confidence, but you don't need it," Armas said. "To me, being beautiful is just accepting yourself."

After the phrase went up this spring, the "Y" was stolen. Pines said that wasn't an ideal outcome but will provide for good discussion.

"We'll talk later about art in a public space and the safety of it," she said.

Armas helped craft a replacement "Y," decorated with several question marks as a way of asking why it was taken.

But in general, Pines said the project received a positive response from occupants of the westward community it faces. Since it was Campus' first year in the 108 S. Webber building, she said the project was a way of thanking the neighbors for welcoming them.

"(Students) were able to see something bigger than themselves," she said, "which is not easy to teach in middle school and the world seems to circle around you and your friends."

Elizabeth Stubbers, 13, said the message is an empowering one to see while going through a day.

"Kindness, love, respect — that makes a person beautiful," she said.

The school's executive director, Tami Adams, said nearby residents have been impressed with the project and how it decorates the neighborhood. Her daughter, Rilynn, still gets a kick out of seeing it now.

"We pass by, and it's like: Yeah, I know I'm beautiful," she said. "And it's cool to know I worked on that."

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