Students Unveil Downtown Benson Mural

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By RICK CURL

Of The Record Staff

Students from Benson Middle School presented a special gift to their community Thursday evening. One they hope residents will enjoy for many years to come.

The students joined forces with their parents, school faculty and Las Vegas artist Markus Tracy to create a series of murals, one of which now adorns the outside wall of the Benton Card Company, funded by an Artist In Education Residency Grant from the North Carolina Arts Council.

Mr. Tracy helped in the de- See Mural, Page 3

Students from Benson Middle along with faculty and parents created a series of murals to honor their town. One of the murals went on public display Thursday. Posing with the finished mural that now hangs on the wall of the Benton Card Company are some of the young artists, from left, Lena Wedding, Grace Jernigan, Layla Whitman, Landon Whitman, Madison Gazlay, Olivia Gazlay, Bella Zapp and Tyler Willman.

Daily Record Photo/Rick Curl Mural

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sign of the series of murals, many of which are on display in the hallways of the school, then stepped back and allowed the students and others involved to create the final product.

Benson Middle School art teacher Magen Pike said students were excited to finally see their work on public display.

“We’re just really excited and the kids are super excited,” she said prior to Thursday’s unveiling. “Several of the parents here painted on the mural.”

Creating the project wasn’t just a small collaborative effort between Mr. Tracy and a handful of students. Ms. Pike said the amount of participation was enormous.

“We had the entire fifth grade class, we had probably a third of eighth grade, a third of sixth grade and a third of seventh grade,” Ms. Pike said. “We had parents of children in my classes and when you include all of the teachers, you might have 500 people involved.”

One of the distinctive features of the piece is a mirror centered on a map of the Town of Benson. Something Ms. Pike says was a way to connect the school with anyone seeing the mural.

“I love the mirror part,” she said. “I like how it brings in the outside into the mural.”

Seventh-grader Laila Whitman, 13, who helped create the project, said working on the project was just as exciting as seeing it unveiled.

“I think it’s great,” she said. “I really had fun helping out with it and I just think it’s amazing.”

She admits during the process her thoughts were focused on what the final product would actually look like.

“I was really trying to think of how it was going to turn out,” she said. “I really did not expect how it was going to turn out. I guess it just came out better than I expected it to.” Benson Middle School Principal Ron Anthony believes the project was a true enhancement to the students and allows the school a chance to become even more embedded in the community.

“I think it goes hand-in-hand and is an integral part of bringing us closer together and reconnecting back with the community,” Mr. Anthony said.

“The community’s always been behind us. We’ve been fortunate. I’ve been principal at the school for three years, but the community’s been with us lockstep throughout our transformation. So, it’s another step, one step closer together.”

Ms. Pike said the project is more than just an art lesson for the students. She says it helps them discover as much as about the community as it does about learning.

“I think it opens the children’s eyes to looking at your community versus just looking at a piece of paper,” she said. “It’s real world. It connects them to the people in the community, the businesses in the community.”

Town Manager Matt Zapp, who was on hand for the unveiling, praised the students for their efforts and said the project intertwines well with the town’s efforts to increase the attractiveness of downtown with things like the mural.

“The Town of Benson has been for many years working for an increased presence of public art and this today is a watershed moment for us,” he said. “We’re enthusiastic and thankful this project has come to fruition and we hope this is just the start of many, many more.”

Ms. Pike said their efforts helped students gather an understanding of how much is involved in the creation of a project like the one now on display in Benton Square.

“We talked about needing to use materials and construction and applying something to a building,” she said. “It’s just real world and they actually saw the end result, which rarely happens.”

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