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Millcreek Journal

Granite School District students collaborate on a mural highlighting community

Sep 04, 2022 10:08AM ● By Lizzie Walie

By Lizzie Walje | [email protected]

Granite School District is one of the most diverse school districts in Utah and operates in various different cities throughout the central Salt Lake Valley. With a total of roughly 67,000 students enrolled ranging from kindergarten to 12th grade, Granite is the third largest district in the state. As a result, the district is home to a variety of students with varying racial, cultural, religious and economic backgrounds.

In an attempt to pay homage to these differences, while simultaneously highlighting a need for unity, Granite School District invited students from six of their high schools and one of their junior highs to participate in a collaborative mural titled “Sense of Community.”

According to the district, “(The work aims to) highlight the landmarks, values, ambitions, and goals of the communities within the school district. The work aims to instill in each young person a striving to succeed.”

After three years in the making, the project was finally unveiled at the Utah Museum of Contemporary Art in June. It was an effort that required lots of planning both financially and artistically. While funding was provided by the Utah Legislature and Utah Division of Arts and Museums, the project was overseen by professional artist Matt Monson.

Monson was the type of child who took to the arts at a young age. “(However), it took me until my 30s to have enough confidence to call myself that out loud. It was around that time I began giving myself permission to just put it out there…to go with my own style. I’ve never stopped creating, and now have murals in different spots from Logan to Boulder, Utah,” he said.

Given Monson’s expertise in mural work, he was an obvious shoe-in for the project. “My main areas of artistic focus are storytelling and creating art that doesn’t just look neat, but something that also gives the feels. My artistic style is defined by flowing interconnected line work, vibrant colors, and always a memorable ‘ah-ha’ sort of design element.”

Monson was approached by Noemi Hernandez-Balcazar, the district arts coordinator. Hernandez-Balcazar first encountered Monson’s artwork on the walls of the new Kearns Public Library, which Monson explains had a heavily Kearns-centric community focus, with three large murals that focused on the town’s past, present and future. Based on that project alone, Hernandez-Balcazar propositioned Monson for the job.

“I was asked to be the lead artist to help the students form their ideas and find their artistic style,” Monson said. “It was important for me to be there in a supportive role and help them with the process—but all designs were done completely by the students of each school.”

The project began in fall 2019, and while the ultimate product turned out wonderfully, Monson and the students would soon learn the challenges of collaborating on a project of this size and scope.

“There were many challenges with the project—coordinating eight different Granite School District art programs and the many students involved. But that was expected. What was not expected was everything that 2020 and 2021 brought us,” Monson said.

The Covid-19 pandemic set the project back by two and a half years. However, the prolonged timeline made the reveal that much sweeter thanks to the hard-working students and art teachers. Finally, those involved were able to host a proper celebration and opening night at the Utah Museum of Contemporary Art in May 2022.

“The obstacles and setbacks were innumerable,” Monson said. “What’s even more amazing though was the perseverance and determination everyone showed in never giving up and pulling off such an amazing show.”

Each school was encouraged to showcase the attributes and defining features that made their specific institution unique. For example, Kearns High School wanted to focus on “the strength of the Kearns Community (that) is represented by the strong roots that sprout up into the stalwart tree. The tree grows and branches out throughout the community and into the many diverse hands that are all part of such an incredible community,” according to the school’s statement.

The students at Olympus High School wanted to pay homage to Salt Lake’s famous mountain landmark and the namesake of the school, Mount Olympus. “In our mural, the great Mount Olympus overlooks our small city and the people who enjoy the myriad of outdoor activities Holladay has to offer: skiing, hiking, mountain biking, live music in the summers, and of course, the Mount Olympus torch run,” according to the school’s statement.

In addition to Kearns High School and Olympus High School, the other schools represented were Taylorsville High School, Granger High School, Wasatch Jr. High, and Hunter High School. Separate but united, they created their own murals, that eventually came together as the “Sense of Community” mural.

The mural hung in the UMOCA from May until the end of June.

“This was such a fun opportunity for me,” Monson said. “Many thanks to Noemi, the art teachers, and, of course, all of the awesome art students from Granite School District. Well done y’all. You really delivered, and the show was truly amazing.”