For his latest mural project, Charlotte-based artist Michael Grant decided to call it the “M.A.P. of Excellence.”
The canvases are several white walls at West Charlotte High School, the muses are the students.
“I came in here (and) I’ve seen a lot of philosophers. I’ve seen a lot of musicians, I’ve seen a lot of different artists,” said Grant of students who embody the words that form the acronym M.A.P. “I’ve seen, you know, what people think of West Charlotte.”
But West Charlotte is a representation of the real world, Grant says, and there is more here than what most people think.
Since April, Grant has volunteered, guided and painted with a few dozen students from Morgan Osburn’s visual art classes. They are students pursuing the International Baccalaureate diploma tract and creating a holistic mural project at the sprawling high school on Senior Drive just off Beatties Ford Road.
It’s a labor of love that has taken a month, some 40 to 60 students, two artists and several cans of paint. The effort culminated Thursday evening, when the school unveiled at least four completed murals during its arts gala.
Bringing beauty to the campus
Osburn, who leads the school’s visual arts department, wants to add beauty and color to the campus, and have students create that art on the many plain walls throughout the fresh building.
Last fall, Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools opened the spacious campus on a lot adjacent to the former school building, which was razed.
“We want the students to really feel seen and accepted... where the students really see themselves, not just in their classrooms, but in the building itself,” Osburn told The Charlotte Observer. “Our goal is to put murals... so it’s not just a boring white space that looks kind of like a jail. It’s a really exciting space that integrates your learning.”
Grant, whose moniker is “Captain KA’Zen,” creates multicultural art that primarily focuses on high vibrant colors and mind elevation, per his website.
He also is the CEO of AKcUracy LLC, a Charlotte-based business specializing in visual arts such as murals, canvas paintings, clothing and other items, per Grant’s website. Grant is a multidisciplinary artist who has painted murals throughout North and South Carolina, including in Charlotte and one in the Historic West End.
Shining a light on West Charlotte students
The school’s mural will be visual narratives with characters embodying what M.A.P. stands for.
Each mural, dappled with bright hues of fuchsia, pale blues, yellow and orange, represents the diversity at the school and in the world, Grant says.
There are plenty of students who fit into this mold — students who draw, paint, write poetry, play instruments — but the school rarely gets recognized for these achievements, Grant says. The impression of West Charlotte students often is negative, something he hopes to change.
“The kids need it, especially these kids,” says Grant. “West Charlotte is a representation of the real world. No one’s really shining that light towards them, no one has really given them that chance. Everything in life is about polarity. If you choose to only look at the negative thing, you missed the beauty within.”
Several students working with Grant agree that the community reputation doesn’t represent them. They do, however, appreciate this type of attention.
“It helps release the stress,” says Chance Bradley, 16, who is a musician and plays brass instruments. “You get a lot of feels in a positive a way.”
“I feel that doing things like this has given us more of a positive outlook ... and saying that what’s around us, isn’t what define us, “ says Chris Ennels, 17, a junior, who worked on a mural alongside his brother Tieire Ennels, 18.
Pride in your school and yourself
Grant also is joined by Ricky Singh, who describes himself on Twitter as a “hip-hop connoisseur” and social activist. Singh is the head of the upper school at The Charlotte Lab School. He is a longtime artist and educator.
Both artists seek to inspire more students to explore their artistic side, foster that growth and celebrate the rich talent the school has to offer.
West Charlotte High School alumna Geornee’ Jefferies, who heads Charlotte-based nonprofit, Curvaceous Behavior, arranged to have the artists come to her old stomping grounds. Jefferies, a Johnson & Wales University grad, says there wasn’t enough of this type of mentoring and nurturing when she was a student a decade ago.
Jefferies admits she didn’t know herself back then. While it took time for her discover what gifts and talents she has and ultimately launched her nonprofit a few years ago.
“What brought me home was just the resources that I know I could bring. I can now teach someone else,” she said. “ I knew that I had an opportunity to work with Morgan and Mike... these kids feel inspired to do anything, where they don’t have to go outside of school, we come to them.”
Osburn has an IB diploma from Myers Park High School and a master in fine arts from Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts. She says students often are inspired to come to school because of the extracurricular activities, such as the band club, the Junior ROTC and the art classes, which schools need to offer.
While math, English and other traditional subjects are necessary, art is crucial for social, emotional learning and mental health, she says.
“Just seeing all aspects of what you can be as a person is really important,” Osburn said. I think having pride in your school improves your self-esteem in your classes. So having a school that’s beautiful, will encourage you to, of course, it will encourage you to do better.”