Local graphic artist/illustrator Claire Salmon has put her beauty mark on a school across the globe through a cross-cultural collaboration with painter Jesse Otukho from Kenya.
Commissioned by visionary Jim Cummings, co-founder and president of Kijana Educational Empowerment Initiative, Salmon has researched and designed more than 20 murals that have been painted by Otukho into large masterpieces on the walls throughout the newly built Kijana Global Innovation School. These “talking walls” depict Kenyan wildlife, the oceans, the rainforest, national parks of Africa, birds of Africa, Earth, and biomes. They cover a range of educational themes from the basics of the color spectrum and identification of animals and plants to conservation, geography and climate change.
The final product of each mural is cultivated through the exchange of ideas spanning the U.S. and multiple continents, fulfilling Kijana’s mission to promote and cultivate youth empowerment through educational development and cross-cultural dialogue.
The mural development process starts with Cummings envisioning the idea and identifying the location for the artwork. He brainstorms with historians, scientists and educators, and then shares his vision with Salmon. Salmon collects resource images to ensure that these educational pieces are as accurate as possible. After she constructs the composition to match the dimension of the wall to be covered, she draws the sketch on her tablet and then passes the illustration to Otukho, who paints the final masterpiece. “When Jim had the idea to make the arts such a central part of the school, all those empty walls became perfect canvases,” Salmon said.
Cummings, a teacher and educational nonprofit leader for close to 30 years in schools throughout the U.S. and in Kenya, believes in a holistic vision. “Traditional curriculums are not that valuable if they don’t encourage us to make life more creative and lively,” he said. “School is not about preparing for a job. It is about preparation for life. Those who have the best skills in creativity often make the most productive and successful people economically.”
The murals are permanent and will now be seen day after day, week after week, and year after year. The KGIS teachers are using the artwork to connect concepts that are being taught in class.
Although Salmon has yet to see the final product, she will visit Kenya this month to see firsthand the impact she’s having in Kenya.
“It couldn’t be more inspiring or humbling to have my art up at Kijana, to see the kids smiling, and to be working with Jesse. I cannot name a more fulfilling moment in my career as an artist,” she said.
Born and raised in The Acreage, Salmon attended the Dreyfoos School of the Arts before graduating from Florida State University’s film school for screenwriting. She is president of the local nonprofit BAM Festival Inc.