Person of the Week
Illustrating Universal Acceptance at Adams Middle School
At the invitation of Adams Middle School PTO, community artist and art educator Daniela Balzano is incorporating 600 individual symbols drawn by each student into a mandala mural. Her goal is to create a single work of community art which celebrates every students’ unique mark in the world. (Photo by Pam Johnson/Guilford Courier)
When the Adams Middle School PTO asked community artist and art educator Daniela Balzano if she could incorporate 600 individual ideas into single mural, her answer was an instant and resounding, “Yes!”
Her next thought?
“Mandalas,” says Daniela.
The geometric figures, which represent the universe in Hindu and Buddhist symbolism, are the perfect vehicle. Daniela’s idea was to create a mural of mandala circles, give each a theme, then sift through every student design and fit at least one element from each young artist into the mural.
To explain that concept to 600 students, Daniela put her thoughts into a brief video that was shared in every Adams art class earlier this year.
“I explained what mandalas are and I said, ‘Let’s get a symbol that represents you, and when I put it together as a whole, it becomes a beautiful thing which shows your place in the world and community.’ Everyone makes a difference and everyone contributes to the overall picture.”
About two months ago, Daniela began to inscribe 600 unique symbols, each carefully copied to include every wiggle or other tell of each artful hand. She works from pages of pencil drawings—600 pages, to be exact—to extract at least one element contributed by every student at Adams.
Adams is currently Guilford’s 7th- and 8th-grade public middle school (named for a beloved Guilford town and school physician, the late Dr. Elisabeth Adams), but was originally built as Guilford’s high school. The building turns 80 this year and to celebrate that milestone, the PTO is installing the mural, says Adams PTO president Sarah Celotto. She adds it couldn’t have been done without Daniela’s help.
“Daniela volunteers all her time for this project. We are incredibly inspired by Daniela and grateful for all that she is doing for Adams Middle School, and leaving a little something on the walls from our present students,” says Celotto.
Daniela says she’s about 50 hours into the work and has about 30 more hours to go—and she’s loving every minute.
“Whenever I get time on weekends, I come down and paint, and every once in a while, if I get a day off of work, I come down,” says the Guilford resident and mom of two, ages 11 and 17. “This is where my heart is; doing something that’s for the community and being involved with the kids.”
Over six years ago, Daniela pursued that concept by founding a youth-based community art studio, Blend, in Branford. The studio has since closed, but she continues to share her art through her website www.danielabalzano.com and an Instagram at Daniela.umbrella. Many connections Daniela made at Blend continue to this day, including one that led to her current work as an art educator with Connecticut Experiential Learning Center (CELC) in Stony Creek, Branford.
“When I’m teaching, I never do a ‘Point A’ to ‘Point B’ project,” she says. “There’s always an end result I’m looking for, but whatever happens in the process is okay. It’s so neat to watch kids make art. Some sing, some hum, some are taking out their aggression on their pencil. That’s what’s so powerful and beautiful about art. When I paint, I process a lot. All of your emotion, anything that happens in your world, manifests in your work.”
What’s manifesting in the mural filling a lower hallway at Adams is nothing short of amazing. Seen from a distance, it’s a rainbow of colors and calming circles balancing against a sky-blue backdrop. Up close, it’s an intricate drawing spanning themes of community, arts, games, nature, and more, filled with figures created by kids.
Recently, Daniela found “le mot juste” expressing the mural’s concept of universal acceptance. Attributed to none other than Walt Disney, it states, “The more you like yourself, the less you are like anyone else, which makes you unique.”
Daniela would love for every student who sees the mural and its message to take those words to heart.
“This is all about being able to celebrate their own unique mark, and that’s why I love the saying,” she says. “I read it over and over, because at first I thought, ‘Did he mean the more you ‘are’ like yourself?’ But no, he meant we need to like ourselves, and we need to have faith that whatever we contribute to this world; it’s totally okay. We don’t need to be like everyone else.”
Daniela also hopes adults who learn of her effort to bring the mural to Adams may be inspired to contribute their own talents to the benefit of the community’s young people.
“Whatever talent we have, if its bookkeeping or sports or art, whatever light you have, if you can bring it, there’s so much we can do to really positively impact our kids’ lives,” she says.