Students put their artistic talents to work in north Atlanta community

Credit: Phil Skinner

Credit: Phil Skinner

High school art students on Atlanta’s northside are giving some sick children something to smile about.

Earlier this month, they transformed an exam room at Atlanta Urgent Care at Druid Hills into a kid-friendly place with sea creature creations that might have floated by in “The Little Mermaid” or “Finding Nemo.”

Credit: Phil Skinner

Credit: Phil Skinner

“The gift of this art is something for kids, by kids,” said Dr. Anthony Ferrara, owner of Atlanta Urgent Care. “To us, that’s truly inspiring.”

The clinic isn’t the first business near Lakeside High School to get an artsy uplift from the school’s National Art Honor Society (NAHS) members and its art club.

Last December, the students wanted to brighten the holidays for residents in the memory care unit at King’s Bridge Retirement Community on nearby Briarcliff Road. They created and hung large fabric flags dyed in bold colors on the residents’ doors and imprinted with giant snowflakes.

They previously partnered with City Barbeque restaurant in Decatur to create a large mural of Georgia images and symbols.

And in the challenging days of the pandemic, the students were on their knees, using sidewalk chalk to create positive messages throughout the community to spread love and positivity to those who were homebound, said Ken Schwager, a visual arts teacher at Lakeside and the faculty sponsor of both the honor society and art club.

“The students enjoy doing work in the community because they feel valued and respected for their efforts,” Schwager said. “And they also feel a sense of purpose that they are doing something meaningful to help others.”

The two groups of students work together on their art, meeting for about an hour once a week after school, usually on Mondays. A few prefer tackling their projects at home.

Schwager said he tries to rotate between school-based and community-based projects. Last year, the students created a series of six positive message murals throughout their school. Some of the decorations for the recent space-themed Homecoming Week also were these students’ handiwork, including replicas of planets in the school hallways.

About 20 students were involved in the Atlanta Urgent Care project, including sophomore Haaven Siye. He created a dolphin and orca that now brighten the dark blue wall of what’s being designated as the urgent care’s pediatric exam room.

“I found them [a dolphin and orca] simple enough to draw and interesting creatures to make,” Haaven, 15, said. “I hope the children find our decorations as nice as I did.”

Credit: Phil Skinner

Credit: Phil Skinner

The National Art Honor Society is reserved for juniors and seniors, while the art club is comprised of freshmen and sophomores, with their backgrounds in art varying widely.

Dues-paying NAHS students earn service hours by participating in art-related school and community-based projects. Schwager said that if they accumulate enough service hours, they can qualify to receive a tasseled honor chord at graduation. He said they also have opportunities to become officers or other leaders in the organization.

Before the students took on the project at Atlanta Urgent Care, there was a suggestion that they do something special for the Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta, being built on North Druid Hills Road. But when they learned that was still a work in progress, they turned their focus to the urgent care. They got the approval for the fish and sea creatures theme and started the project in mid-February. It was completed in April and fills that dark blue wall in the exam room with about 25 fish and sea creatures.

Schwager said the project also incorporated some life lessons for the students, including how to delegate responsibility, collaborate as a group while maintaining their personal styles, and stick to a budget and schedule.

“And most importantly, new friendships were formed, ideas were shared, and a spirit of teamwork developed,” he said.

Sophomore Nyssa Talukder has been a member of the art club for about two years and loves it. The projects that the two groups have done play to her “passion for art,” she said.

Nyssa is considering a possible career in graph design, and “designing things that will be seen by the public is really good practice for me,” she said.

Nyssa contributed to the pediatric exam room with a bright yellow and orange puffer fish and a blue and purple beta fish with flowing fins.

Credit: Phil Skinner

Credit: Phil Skinner

Ferrara, the facility’s owner, said the goal was to make an exam room more comforting and visually attractive to young patients.

“We thought it would be great to have something to take their minds off being sick and injured,” he said.

And the student artists and Schwager delivered.

“They are working to give back to their community and make it a better place,” he said.