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Students Uncover Hidden Talents while Stamping Houston’s History on Mural-Painted Cubes

Seven eighth-grade art students from Deady Middle School in East End Houston recently completed an eight-foot-by-eight-foot mural-painted cube that reflects Houston’s beginnings and the Ship Channel’s history. The student’s creation is one of five large, colorful cubes on display in the East End throughout the year.

My Neighborhood program, a collaborative effort by the Mayor’s Office of Cultural Affairs and the Houston Arts Alliance, funded the Cube Project. The project goal was to help local organizations expand arts and cultural experiences throughout the community.

But for Deady Middle School art students, working on this project involved more than creatively expressing the history of Harrisburg and Houston. To them, it was a priceless opportunity to build self-confidence and uncover hidden talents among themselves while enhancing the reputation of their low-profile school.

In fact, Deady Middle School, located in a low-income and predominantly Hispanic neighborhood, own two rankings that make it standout. First, 81 percent of the students are designated At-Risk. Second, 98 percent are classified as Economically Disadvantaged. Deady significantly surpasses Houston ISD and Texas averages as an underperforming school. Because of this disadvantage, Deady tends to hide in the shadows of higher-performing schools when rare learning opportunities like the Cube Project surface.

It all changed with one enthusiastic and dedicated art teacher, JoAnn von der Haar. A 23-year veteran at Deady, von der Haar learned of the Cube Project opportunity from a former employee in October. She recalls, “I immediately jumped at the challenge for our students to work on one of the five large cubes and give them the opportunity to publicly display their budding talent.”

Upon accepting the project, von der Haar assigned a theme that reflected the historical significance of the Eastside. To design and lead the painting of the cube’s four panels, von der Haar chose seven students from her introductory art class: America Z., Alejandra P., Jose N., Andres M. Faith T., Alejandro R., and Anthony G. After Thanksgiving, the group began their research and settled on painting each panel with the following sub-themes: East End, Ship Channel, Port of Houston, Buffalo Bayou and Harrisburg where each side incorporates their knowledge.

As the Cube Project progressed, the seven Deady Middle School students began to realized that this project was more than merely representing Houston history through art.

When asked about the project’s deeper meaning, Alejandra said she wanted Houston to have a good impression on her artistic and creative talent. For Faith, participating in the project helped her build confidence, which led to better grades. She added, “This cube is for the world to see. It’s helping me get better. It has a great impact on the school and me because the school hasn’t had a good history.” Finally, America commented on this unique experience, “It feels good that somebody is actually going to see this, see my ideas.”

One of von der Haar’s goals included increasing teamwork among the art students. The collaborative effort proved successful: the students were able to build a positive experience for themselves, the school and completed the design and mural painting of all four sides of the eight-foot-by-eight-foot cube within a record time of two weeks. This achievement reinforces the view held by Deady Middle School’s Principal, Opal Harrison.”Deady students hold great potential and are capable of breaking all barriers,” she said. “Projects like this give our youth a strong dose of encouragement.”

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Von der Haar likes to cite President Barack Obama’s words when she thinks about the outcome, “Change will not come if we wait for some other person or some other time. We are the ones we’ve been waiting for. We are the change that we seek.”

On December 20, 2018, BakerRipley, Houston East End Chamber of Commerce, Finca Tres Robles and Talento Bilingue de Houston held a ribbon-cutting ceremony invited von der Haar and her seven art students to join artists Sylvia Blanco, Donkeeboy, and GONZO247. GONZO247, a well-known Houston-area muralist, collaborated with von der Haar and guided the students. He also painted one of the four cubes.

During the ribbon-cutting ceremony, Jeff Kramer, BakerRipley’s Vice President of Fund Development, said, “(Art) gives people voices. It gives a voice to those who don’t otherwise have a voice. It gives people an opportunity to transform communities, moving them forward and in the process, transforming people’s lives.”

Research by the National Endowments for the Arts indicates that teenagers and young adults of low socioeconomic status who have a history of in-depth arts involvement show better academic outcomes. They earn better grades and demonstrate higher rates of college enrollment and attainment.

The large and colorful mural-painted cubes are open to the public to enjoy for free at BakerRipley Central, 4450 Harrisburg Boulevard, Houston, TX 77011.

This story is funded in part by the City of Houston through Houston Arts Alliance.


East End Improvement Corporation (EEIC) and Wells Fargo unveiled the first of seven BCycle “Art Stations” as part of a community program to connect residents and visitors to public art and businesses in East End Houston. The unveiling ceremony included the donation of 36 bicycles and helmets to East End students in coordination with local non-profit Wellness On Wheels (WOW). 
longest-serving urban farms, Finca Tres Robles, is getting ready for some big changes in the year ahead. Umbrella organization Small Places is transitioning to a 501(c)(3) to help revamp the farm and increase its impact in serving the East End community. In the months ahead, Finca Tres Robles will be celebrating 7.5 years of work in the East End as it pauses field operations at the end of 2021 to prepare for its next chapter.

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