Mural project showcases school’s character, lasting legacy

20 MURAL remi and anne flash

Southern Delaware School of the Arts sixth grader Remi Devine and her mom Anne Toomey paint book bind strips in a school-wide mural project that will serve as a lasting legacy and showcase school character.

SELBYVILLE – Works of art took center-stage this week at Southern Delaware School of the Arts in a school/community wide mural project with an embedded anti-bullying message sculpted around “character.”

The project is under the tutelage of professional artist John Donato of Ocean View in partnership with the Joshua M. Freeman Foundation.

The mission: create lasting legacies through mural projects at elementary schools in Sussex County.

“It is an art project but has real deep social impact and real deep educational impact,” said Mr. Donato.

Mural projects – part of the Freeman Foundation’s Arts in Education Program – are designed to “take quality arts programs and partner with our schools in Sussex County,” said Patti Grimes, executive director of Joshua M. Freeman Foundation and the Carl M. Freeman Foundation.

“We went to schools. We want to have a legacy mural project in every middle school in Sussex County, whereby every student, every educator, every teacher, every administrator would take part in this,” said Ms. Grimes.

Wednesday, Jan. 13 was parents’ day at Southern Delaware School of the Arts – a grade 1-8 school in the Indian River School District whose mission is to promote student achievement by learning through the arts.

The week-long project began Monday and concludes Friday.

“Each student has their strip book bind. Everyone has their own individual book bind, and they put their name down there so they are the author of their values,” Ms. Grimes said.

It’s far more than brushes and acrylic paint.

“We come in ahead of time and prep their thinking. We introduce the project before we get on the project,” said Mr. Donato. “They have time to really think about and digest what character means to them and to think about what it means to their school and to each other and the community. So they really take a deep dive into what does character mean.”

“This way whatever they put on the wall is going to leave a very profound message to everybody else that reads it afterwards. They are really trying to paint something that will help guide others,” said Mr. Donato. “In a 30-minute period, they can do a really nice book painting.”

20 MURAL christie terri nicholson

Southern Delaware School of the Arts fifth grader Christie Nicholson and her mom Terri Nicholson add their artistic touch to the school’s mural project.


Fifth grader Michaela Watson believes “it will show good character and inspire others.”

Terri Nicholson agrees.

“It will inspire others – and it is a work of art. It is for the school,” said Ms. Nicholson, whose artistic offering was “Dance like nobody is watching. Enjoy life.”

Her daughter, fifth grader Christie Nicholson believes “it will really inspire people to do lots of art.”

Finished book binds comprise panels, which will be encased in 8-foot book cases that will finalize the project for a gala public “reveal” on Feb. 11.

“It will look like a whole library,” said Ms. Grimes.

“The way the system works, there is a lot of diversity. You’ll have the first grader right next to an eighth grader. You get this tremendous variety of artwork and messages,” said Mr. Donato.

Ms. Grimes said the idea is to work within the schools and monitor and perpetuate the school’s values.

“So that way, when children are going up and down the halls, they would be reminded constantly of what the school stands for and what those values are. If you were a guest coming in the school or you were the next generation of students coming into the school it would be a reminder,” said Ms. Grimes. “Every student would have a different level of ownership. This is for the future of the students that come to SDSA. And the collective whole is so much bigger than the individual, and yet the individual is unique.”

20 MURAL donato and spangenber panels

Local artist John Donato of Ocean View, left, and Robin Spangenberg, Operations Manager for the Joshua M. Freeman Foundation, flank mural panels created by Southern Delaware School of the Arts students, staff and parents.


News Editor Glenn Rolfe can be reached at

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