The students at Burien’s St. Bernadette Catholic School are taking their art to a whole new level thanks to a partnership between the school and King County Metro Transit.

The theme of their original new bus shelter mural is “The Pacific Northwest Leads in Science, The Arts, Sports and Industry.” Incorporated into the acrylics are patterns reminiscent of the locale’s historical Coast Salish tribes prior to settlement and through present time.

“To show respect for Native arts, we are painting a wolf using the art form as taught by Robert E. Stanley Sr., a native artist in British Columbia who comes from a family of artists and wood carvers,” St. Bernadette art teacher Kathleen McHugh told The B-Town Blog. “In addition to the importance the wolf holds in native communities, the wolf also represents the values needed in community art, too: leadership, loyalty and independence.”

Timing is everything with a project of this size and scope. The seventh and eighth graders are painting two panels. The Monday class is painting the natural world with blue and green while the Tuesday class is painting the built environment using red and orange. Metro provided the students with the exterior enamel paint and mural boards needed for the groundbreaking project.

The Wolf panel will be dedicated to the first peoples and the title panel will showcase familiar landmarks, such as the Space Needle.

“I got the idea for a bus shelter mural while listening to a discussion on the radio about the fundamental feeling of belonging for students and how vital it is to their self perception of success in both their academic and social life,” McHugh shared.

“I thought that the fragmented experiences and all the unknowns that faced all of us during the COVID-19 lockdown might have also had a negative impact on the students’ sense of belonging that was being discussed in the radio broadcast,” McHugh added. “I wondered how an art program could reinforce the experience of being an active member of a community, and I thought that the bus shelter mural program would be a perfect way to do that.”

The idea McHugh presented to the school was fully supported.

“This bus shelter mural is important to me because it is a way for the students to share their art with the public and also a way for the public to experience St. Bernadette students as vital community participants,” she said.

The bus shelter mural is expected to impact the local community in both tangible and intangible ways.

“Tangibly, the government has done studies about civic life in areas where youth live as stakeholders in contrast to areas in which youth experience civic life as disenfranchised outsiders,” McHugh said. “King County wants youth to be stakeholders as it encourages civic youth engagement and reduces vandalism and property destruction. The ineffable impacts are the ones that I respond to that relate to the connections that are made through art between the students artists and the people they might never meet who see their art in the community.”

So far, there has been no pushback to the project. The students were directly involved in selecting the theme of the bus shelter mural and Metro approved it.

McHugh reiterated the importance of art in communities.

“I really love community art projects. I have facilitated them for years in different settings with many different types of groups. One constant is that individual members experience their art in an amplified context while meeting the challenges that arise whenever a group of people achieve a goal together,” she shared.

“The students will always remember that they successfully accomplished a group objective on a schedule while maintaining deadlines. In order to be a creative project, students need to keep their individual strengths and ideas intact. Community art creates a context for individuals to work alone and together at the same time. This type of experience can be applied to any team endeavor in which individuals need to be both separate and united to achieve objectives.”

What inspires McHugh to pour her energy into these types of endeavors?

“Watching the human spirit in action inspires me, and working on this community mural ignites the human spirit,” she said. “It’s a lot of fun.”

Below are photos of the students painting the mural, courtesy St. Bernadette School:

Sarah Toce

Sarah has been in media and publishing for over 15 years and previously served as the president of the Society of Professional Journalists.