Pulse of the People: Where color and paintbrushes meet local issues


Sally Zhu

Art Club members stand behind their work after the completion of the “Love Not Hate” mural in Downtown Palo Alto on June 12. Club members painted the mural in support of the Stop AAPI movement and to show solidarity with the AAPI community.

If you were to walk down University Avenue in Downtown Palo Alto the summer afternoon of June 12, the streets would be filled with tables outside restaurants, families and many large canopy tents to block the sun’s powerful rays. A new discovery lies beneath each sheet of white canvas: a couple eating pasta at a small round table, a vendor selling handcrafted embroideries or some Harker students hard at work painting a mural on a k-rail. 

Past this k-rail, a plastic barrier between street lanes, huddles a dozen students holding large buckets of paint, different sizes of brushes and miniature cardstock prints of the mural’s final design, all armed with ice cream cookie sandwiches to combat the sweltering summer air. Each has added a stroke or more of paint on Harker Art Club’s most recent endeavor, a mural inspiring love and positivity in light of the Stop AAPI Hate movement.

After an increase in hate crimes against the Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) population in the United States in March, the Stop AAPI Hate movement gained traction to rally for the AAPI community. Following the shooting at three Asian-owned massage parlors in Atlanta, nationwide and local communities have shown their support through media and protests for the movement.  

Led by Art Club officers Michelle Liu (11) and Gloria Zhu (11), Art Club began the mural on June 11 and ended June 12. The finished painting features blocks of red and yellow and blue, with large letters spelling out “Love Not Hate.” Surrounding the letters are Chinese lanterns, fans and lotus flowers, inspired by traditional Asian culture. According to Michelle, Art Club hoped the direction of the mural would be uplifting and reflect the beauty of Asian culture to counter violence and hate. 

“[To design the mural], we basically all got into a Zoom call, and we came up with a bunch of different motifs and symbols that we would want to put on there,” Gloria said. “The lanterns and the fans were because this was inspired by the recent AAPI hate crimes, and then the message ‘love not hate’ was based on that as well.”

After agreeing on an initial draft of the design and a location for the mural, Michelle reached out to the Palo Alto Public Art Committee, applying for a grant through the ArtLift Microgrant Program. The program funds 40 local artists with the intent to support the Palo Alto community artistically during the pandemic. With $1000 from the grant and the help of art teacher and Art Club adviser Pilar Aguero-Esparza, the work on the mural took off. 

“[On June 11], Friday, Michelle and I came and primed the [k-rail], so we painted it white,” Gloria said. “Then we sketched on the design with pencil, and today we had members of the Art Club that were able to come paint in the lines that we drew.”

Irene Yuan

This isn’t the only mural that Art Club has done. Last year, they painted a mural for the Black Lives Matter movement, participating with other local groups to paint large block letters of “Black Lives Matter” in front of the Palo Alto City Hall. Working again with the Palo Alto Public Art Committee, Art Club wanted to take action and participated in this opportunity to spread the message of the movement through art. 

“The public art program here at Palo Alto is very open to working with students,” Aguero-Esparza said. “[One exciting] thing about having worked with the Black Lives Matter mural last year, as well as this year is you see proposals by our local artists and artist teams, and then they select people and have everything happen quickly.”

Along with the “Love Not Hate” k-rail and “Black Lives Matter” mural, Art Club completed another mural yesterday after painting for a week in the courtyard of the Boccardo Reception Center. Part of HomeFirst Services, a local organization aiming to end homelessness, Boccardo Reception Center is the largest homeless shelter in Santa Clara county. 

Aguero-Esparza first introduced the HomeFirst mural idea to the Honors Directed Portfolio class, whose four students spent the last semester designing and working on the project. With the help of Art Club members they completed painting the 6 feet by 40 feet wall. The mural uses bright colors to depict figures carrying fence planks with words such as “community,” “empathy” and “love” to build new houses. 

Sydney Takemoto-Spraggins (‘21), who took the Honors Directed Portfolio class, explains the message the mural hopes to convey. 

“Working with HomeFirst and using their idea of putting homeless people in sheltered housing [and] having emergency housing was a really good opportunity for the Honors Directed [Portfolio] class,” Sydney said. “I hope that this mural really provides strength and empowerment for people that live here.” 

Both of these projects have allowed members of art classes and Art Club to work together. For first-year Art Club member Claire Su (9), the best part of painting the “Love Not Hate” mural was working with fellow student artists after a year apart. 

“[My favorite part has been] just painting with everyone, just being with everyone together,” Claire said. “I don’t know everybody super well because I’m new, but it was fun getting to know people and talking to a couple of people.”  

In the coming school year, Art Club will be open for new members to join, and current members are already planning to increase club visibility. They have future plans for merchandise and more schoolwide events such as painting a mural on the upper school campus later this year for the entire community to take part in. In the meantime, the “Love Not Hate” k-rail mural will be available for public viewing until September. 

“We wanted to just spread a positive message in Palo Alto as everything is reopening, and when people come out, they can walk down the street and see our mural, and we hope that maybe it’ll just bring them a little bit of joy and also spread our message,” Michelle said. “[Our goal is] showcasing the different beautiful aspects of Asian culture and showcasing that you should love and not hate.”

For anyone interested in working with the Art Club on future projects, reach out to officers Gloria Zhu (11) at [email protected] and Michelle Liu (11) at [email protected].