Art Wall’s return brings smiles to campus


Alena Suleiman

Sydney Ling (10) doodles on the Art Wall on Oct. 15. That day, the prompt was: “In one word, how are you feeling today?”

by Alena Suleiman, Reporter

Taking the shortcut to Main from Shah, Katelyn Zhao (10) wanders through two pillars engulfed in vines as she comes face to face with a large, rectangular chalkboard almost completely covered in colorful words and drawings. A smile slowly spreads across her face as she pauses to absorb the uplifting messages. Bending down, she picks up a stick of pink chalk and leaves a smiley face in the bottom right corner of the Art Wall.
“What is one thing you are grateful for?”
The following question lies in the center of the Art Wall’s October design, an empathetic gesture from students on the L.I.F.E. Board to everyone who passes by the art building on their way to Main or Shah.
Responses ranging from “family” to “guacamole” as well as comical and season-appropriate doodles such as a giant turkey surround the question. Arkita Jain (12), a member of Art Club who contributed to the drawings, noted the positive effect the wall has on both students and faculty.
“I think the message is making people happy, just seeing cute things on the wall as you’re walking by,” Arkita said.
Anyone can draw and write on the wall, not just members of the L.I.F.E Board. A green paper bag filled with a variety of blues, pinks and many more colors sits directly under the board, an open invitation to all community members to add words of support for each other.
Art Club co-president Gloria Zhu (12) found that reading the messages left on the wall helps to better understand others’ thoughts, thereby strengthening the Harker community.
“I think the Art Wall is a really creative way to get a sense of what all of your classmates are feeling and the general atmosphere of the campus,” Gloria said. “You feel more of a sense of community.”
Even students who are practically new to the high school campus like Adrian Liu (10) appreciated the wall and its welcoming effect.
“With this year being my first year at the [high school] campus in person … the art wall sort of just makes me feel like more of a part of the community,” Adrian said. “All the positive messages make it that much more special.”
The art wall’s roots trace back to the spring of 2016 when Alexis Gauba (‘17) and Riya Chandra (‘17) attended a conference that focused on the subjects of community, the importance of communication, and the experience of being a teenager. There, they gained inspiration for the wall: written on a chalkboard was a prompt with 20 blank lines that encouraged attendees to answer. The then juniors introduced the idea to upper school math teacher and L.I.F.E. Board supervisor Jane Keller, who made the Art Wall a reality after gaining permission from current upper school division head Mr. Keller and then upper school division head Mr. Nikoloff.
Over a year and a half of virtual and hybrid learning due to the pandemic left the Art Wall untouched. A cherished, colorful aspect of campus life that previously offered students and faculty a brief moment of introspection during a hectic day was missing. Yet, on the other hand, upper school visual arts teacher and Art Club advisor Pilar Aguero-Esparza acknowledged the symbolic value of leaving the board almost completely empty.
“I thought it was quite poetic that last year [the wall] said ‘March’ for the longest time,” Ms. Pilar Aguero-Esparza said. “For the whole year, nobody defaced that. Nobody added anything to it. And I thought that in some ways, that’s where we were because we were not here.”
Now, as students and faculty return to campus amidst the “new normal” of masks, constant sanitation and social distancing, one thing remains constant: the Art Wall’s positive effects on the community.
“The compliments and encouragements were heartwarming and uplifting,” Katelyn said. “It brightened my day.”

Harker Aquila will update this article with a snapshot of the Art Wall per day from Oct. 18 to Nov. 18 to document the changes made by the upper school community over the course of a one-month period.