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Ada Colorina and Focus on the Arts – Highland Park, IL

April 26, 2013
Preparing for a week of bench creation at Highland Park High School

Preparing for a week of bench creation at Highland Park High School

It all started that Friday morning with a visit to Highland Park High School.  Well, actually that’s a lie.  It started last October when we first met with Highland Park’s Sister Cities and the board of HPHS’s Focus on the Arts program.  That meeting was the first time we spoke about having Ada work with the students to design and paint benches honoring a member of the Sister Cities board who had passed the year before.  Walking out of this meeting, we knew it was only a matter of time before Ada would return to Chicago to work with the students.

After months of planning the day was set…Ada was to arrive on April 4th.  The day after she arrived, we attended a meeting with Blake, an art teacher at the high school, to see what the benches looked like.

Blake (art teacher) and the raw benches eagerly awaiting Ada's touch

Blake (art teacher) and the raw benches eagerly awaiting Ada’s touch

Whoa!  We had our work cut out for us.  The benches were completely raw and in need of a good sanding, some patch work to smooth out the rough spots and a coat or 10 of primer.  I guess this wouldn’t have been too bad if we had more time.  But we were slated to start production on Monday and needed to get them as done as possible by Wed. night for a dedication.

Does Ada look nervous?

Does Ada look nervous?

Armed with her sketch book, some stencils and a brush or two, Ada paused for a quick laugh.  Laughter certainly carried us through the week.  That’s part of what I love about Ada…she always has a smile on her face, even in those completely overwhelming times.  We jumped right in and started patching up the indentations left from the screws, rough patches of wood and other oddities.

Finally, a student came to join the creative process!

Finally, a student came to join the creative process!

We must have been working for 3 hours before any students came to join the project.  I was kind of shocked as I figured we’d be working with the students the entire time.  I was counting on that actually as my plan was to blog on-site each day.  But no.  I barely had time to snap a photo or two much less take the time to write about the experience.  It was all hands on deck.  Sophia, our first student shown in the picture above, came for about 30 minutes and shared her vision for the benches.  As the benches were to highlight the Sister Cities of Puerto Vallarta and Highland Park, she thought we could have one element that tied the two cities together.  Spreading out from that one common element, we would incorporate each city’s most prominent features.

Collaboration at its finest

Ada and Sophia co-creating

Ada immediately grabbed her pencil and started to sketch out this idea.  Within minutes, they agreed that the one uniting feature would be the water.  One side…Banderas Bay…and the other Lake Michigan.

First the sky was filled in

First the sky was filled in

Then...more details added

Sophia was our only student on Day 1…but she her ideas were instrumental to the design of the first bench.  Thanks girl!  Day 2 was completely different.  Students scurried in an out with the sound of each bell.  I’ve included a series of photos below showcasing their involvement and how the benches progressed throughout the day.  Incredible!

Students enter the scene

Students enter the scene

Dive right in....

Dive right in….

busy, busy, busy...

busy, busy, busy…

Even the special needs class jumped into the action...so awesome!

Even the special needs class jumped into the action…so awesome!

Un oh!!!   When the paintbrush hits the hair, you know it's getting serious :)

Un oh!!! When the pencil hits the hair, you know it’s getting serious 🙂

Color palates and one amazing bench almost completed

Color palates and one amazing bench almost completed

We must have had about 80 kids help out on Day 2 of the project.  Their energy and spirit of collaboration made they day fly by.   I’ll be posting more on this project and Ada’s visit to Chicago in a bit.

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