Mary Mathey spotted the makings of a mural out on a stroll in a Chicago neighborhood.
She learned the artists were brightening decaying, urban areas with public art. But it's more than something pretty, they told her.
The Green Star Movement works side-by-side with locals, trying to heal divisions and create civic pride.
"Would you ever come out to Palatine?" Mathey asked them.
That was the beginning of a two-year quest by Mathey, an art teacher at Jane Addams Elementary School, to bring Green Star to the Palatine school where more than half of the students are Hispanic and a quarter, white. Her idea: create a mural that would bridge differences and celebrate the school's 50th anniversary.
"Sometimes I feel like it's difficult to bring everybody together," Mathey says of students from surrounding neighborhoods and those from a couple of miles away near Rand Road.
Two years and several fundraisers later, Mathey stood outside the school Tuesday, admiring the start of a $20,000 mural made of ceramic and glass tiles and concrete sculptures -- Green Star's first project in the suburbs.
The 3-D mural sprouts from the school's southwest corner, travels along the front of the building and ends at the main entrance.
Step closer, and you see a mosaic of colorful tiles form a jaguar (Jane Addams' mascot), resting in flowers inspired by the school's courtyard garden. A parade of flags representing students' backgrounds will soon take off from the jaguar's back.
Getting the mural off the ground was no easy task. Jane Addams held an all-school assembly to introduce Mathey's idea at the start of the school year. Students pitched in with fundraisers, while teachers applied for grants. During brainstorming sessions, parents and kids designed the project's look.
Those preparations are coming together this week as students and Green Star artists begin to install the mural. For community members who want to take part, Jane Adams will hold a "Community Build Day" from noon to 2 p.m. May 17. Or, donations can be made at gofundme.com/4b3j58.
"Doing public art with a group of people really allows you to get a sense of community and accomplishment," Green Star artist Anna Soltys said. "And it just works as this awesome reminder of what you're capable of."
The Chicago acrylic painter and musician joined sixth-graders who applied tiles Tuesday to what was the school's bland, brick exterior. She translated the process in ways sixth-graders understand: Scoop up a good hunk of mortar with a piece of tile, just like chips and dip.
"You're going to all have your own style about what this looks like," the native of Krakow, Poland, told the eager audience.
Avion Walker used to drag his feet to art classes. After tackling a section of the mural Tuesday, the Arlington Heights student showed off his concrete-covered hands and aimed higher.
"I want to get better at drawing to draw pictures for my mom," the 12-year-old said.
As cash-strapped schools cut back on the arts, Green Star hands kids projects that teach sculpture, photography, mosaics and painting. It's called bricolage, made popular by Philadelphia-born artist Isaiah Zagar.
"It's so much more than that," said Mathey, who's rallied businesses behind the fluid mural.
The teacher has seen the teamwork from parents and kids who take ownership of the mural and their school. While the project should wrap up by June, she says the mural already has translated into better turnout for Jane Adams events.
"The whole goal is to build community and empower the kids," she said. "It's their project."