Midstate students first to paint murals to be displayed as part of statewide art project

HUMMELSTOWN, Pa. (WHTM) – A new statewide art project is kicking off here in the Midstate, encouraging students to put their skills on display to countless people traveling on the turnpike.

For a lot of high school students, their experience with the art world takes place in their art classroom. Now a few groups are teaming up to get them out in the real world.

Ava Bottiglia, 18, is learning the art of collaboration firsthand.

“This is a lot of trial and error,” she said, adding some red paint to a four-foot-long pen drawn on the board in front of her.

The Lower Dauphin High School senior sat Tuesday in a line of classmates on her school’s stage, all of them working on different parts of a long mural depicting Harrisburg’s skyline. Two giant hands holding pens trace the outline of a bridge leading into the city.

“The hands are actually trying to, are like, creating the city,” she explained, “so the city’s always changing.”

The cityscape is one of two murals the students here are working on. The other features mountains, woods, animals, and other natural elements found around the capital area.

“It’s just kind of pushing everyone’s boundaries and their comfort zones to push themselves to do something different,” Bottiglia said.

“It’s definitely new,” 17-year-old junior Kayla Hoffer said, adding detail to the deer she was painting. “It’s a lot different than just working on art piece here at school.”

The project itself is a collaboration; the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission is partnering with the Pennsylvania Council on the Arts, Harrisburg-Hershey Regional Visitors Bureau, and arts education group Jump Street to spread student art in the new Art Sparks program.

These two murals taking shape in Lower Dauphin High School will be installed in the Lawn Service Plaza outside Hummelstown.

“They didn’t get a ton of direction at first because they really wanted the kids’ voice to come through,” Dana Attivo, the school’s art teacher, said of the project.

The kids designed the murals with the goal of incorporating unique pieces of the Midstate into them. The groups who commissioned the work — their clients — gave feedback, and they re-designed the work.

Lower Dauphin is the first school involved in Art Sparks. They’re the guinea pigs in the pilot program — the eventual goal being to expand it to other schools that can add artistic expressions of their hometowns to more local travel plazas.

“It’s pressure,” Attivo laughed.”It’s a lot of fun pressure.”

“So assuming this one goes well, the plan is to do this across the state,” local artist and designer Meg Davis said.

She’s advising the kids and helping where they need it as an artist-in-residence. Davis, an experienced muralist with Sprocket Mural Works whose work is on display around Harrisburg, said the experience of working with clients to is invaluable at this age.

“I didn’t have that experience until I was in college,” she said, “after college.”

“I haven’t had other people look at my art before in such a wide scale,” 16-year-old Hannah Johnson said. She spent early Tuesday afternoon painting clouds and blending backgrounds between the two nature panels.

The Turnpike will reveal these first murals in mid-May.

Bottiglia can’t wait, she said, to inspire the countless kids and adults who will see her work. “Even if they glance at it for a couple seconds will mean a lot to us.”

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