Bulb Archived: Telpochcalli SCALE 2017-2018: Franzinger-Barrett & Estrada

School Name: Telpochcalli Elementary

Teacher Name: Erin Franzinger Barrett

Teaching Artist Name: William Estrada

Big Idea: Community

Inquiry: What interests and curiosities were brought to the planning by each of you? 

Teacher response:

I am very interested in the idea of Loved Spaces. Telpochcalli has always felt like a loved space – where community members are valued and where the environment is intentionally curated. I was really interested to see how we could change spaces within the school that everyone would interact with. 

Teaching Artist response: 

For the past couple of years I have been interested in exploring how we can affect change through the alteration of public spaces that go unnoticed or are underutilized within the school. Specifically thinking about ownership of space, how spaces are utilized for students, and what environments we can create that encourage building and strenthening community.  I was excited about the possibiity to change the school space by looking with students at places that arent so nice to look at or otherwise go ignored. Our effacy changes when we change the spaces we interact with everyday, our ownership changes. Changing the space also changes the perception of it by those who interact with it. It makes them more aware of what they are looking at or at least, it makes them aware that the space exists.

The course of the program slowed down as we continued developing collaborative projects. We took time in talking about program possibilities, planning projects that could activate school spaces, deepening our relationships and exploring materials. The slowness of the projects was sometimes challenging for me, but engaging with Erin and with the students in discussing the possibilities and figuring out timelines eased a lot of the tension I felt about moving faster and completing project faster. The ease and collaborative aspects of the class helped me develop a better sense of how to explore curiosities we have and checking in each class to make sure we are all aware of the plan we have and how we want it to move along. 

Painting the under color as students prepared the table to be used a chalk table.
A momentary pause as we celebrated painting the final staircase.

2. The Project: Tell the story of your project. What happened in the classroom? 

We discussed making changes around the school. We looked at ideas and artist we each were interested in and presented to each other on why we were interested. We spent a few days photographing spaces around the school and investigating projects on Pinterest for what we might want to pursue. In the end, the project we decided to go for sprang from a student’s brain and one of our photographs. 

time lapse documentation taken of one of the activated stairwells
The second half of the stairweel painted in purple. 
Half of the last stairwell painted.
Heidi painting one of the tables in the community garden.
Aryanna, Maestra Erin, and Natalie researching chess and checker board designs, cutting chess designs, and preparing wood pieces to be painted.
Tai preparing the ground for the chess/checkerboard design.
Twisting together the t-shirt strands. Using a hoolahoop as a loom to weave our community carpet.
Cutting tshirts to make strands for weaving.
Weaving t-shirts together.
The final carpet pieces students created for the lounge space.


We painted 3 staircases in the school to learn about painting, explore the affects art has on public spaces, and to give us time to plan the rest of the year. We spent a lot of time discussing what colors to paint, we discussed the stairs as transitional spaces between places, people, grade levels, floors, etc. This project took a lot longer than we anticipated and it became the biggest project we did, even if it had been inteded to be a starting point to engage with the initial ideas we had about creating a student lounge space. The 3 staircases became a focal point for our discussions on what public art is, it also provided a space for us to figur eout how to work together, how to talk to one another, and how to plan. 


We developed plans to activate school spaces through green vegetation, aroma therapy, and visual stimulation through vertical and/or small gardens. We worked with the clay program in making planters that we would use to activate spaces around the school. The clay planters were desgined and made but we never finalized the project. The clay panters still needed to be glazed and installed, this project lost a lot of momentum when we realized the stairwells would take a lot longer to paint than we had anticipated.

Student Lounge Space

The student lounge space was envisioned as two spaces on the second floor we would activate for students to use as lounge spaces as they moved from class to class. As a space for them to gather as they transitioned. To begin the creation of the space we decided to weave carpets using old  telpochcalli uniforms and reclaimed student t-shirts as a metaphor of all the students (represented through the t-shirts we weaved) that make up the lounge spaces. The weaving of the carpets was time consuming and challenging, once we finalized one carpet, we decided to move on to a different project that would allow us to work outside.

Community Garden

The community garden exists on the southeast side of the school property. The space exists and is managed as a collaborative space where community organizations and parents grow vegetables,  teachers teach, students play and learn, and people gather. Students were interested in repainting and repairing tables already present in the space as well as creating a chess and checker game as part of the gardens design. We painted 2 out of the 3  tables that existed and began digging and placing garden stepping stones for the chess game. Unfortunately, the garden stepping stones were broken and we finished about 80% of the design the last day of class. I hope to continue doing this work during our summer program.  

3. How did you check in throughout the project to plan and adjust plans as the project unfolded? 

We met a lot with each other and with students. We did everything step by step (ha) and waited until we finished one staircase to really solidify the plan for the next. 

We met and talked every week, checking in with each other and with students. We planned schedules and created goals based on our needs, energy, and the weather. 

4. What are the conflicts, contradictions or challenges of your teacher/artist collaboration? 

Teacher response: 

William was much more confident in how to proceed at first! I looked at the stairs, knew people wanted some kind of pink ombre, and said UHHHHHH. Before we started painting the first step, I think the students were about to go batty because I just couldn’t decided whether to tape *here* or *here,* to start painting on *this* side or *that.* William made some executive decisions and we got rolling! I’m glad we started with the tiniest staircase – although it took the longest to paint, it really taught us a lot about the process and gave us the confidence to proceed. 

Teaching Artist response: 

One of the most challenging things I encountered was timing. I wanted to keep the projects moving at a faster pace so we could finalize them during normal breaks in programming (thanksgiving, winter break, spring break, etc.). This didnt quite work out and it became challenging to keep students engaged at all times. Although this is also part of the process of building colalborative projects with people, we managed to work out the kinks and communicate our needs. Building collaborative projects takes longer because it requires everyone to be involved in the conversation in order to facilitate transparency of the process and develop clear expectations that we all agree on. 

5. What are you learning as a result of collaborating with one another in terms of teaching and art making? 

Teacher response: 

I love working with William! He boosts my confidence to try out wacky ideas (oh, mixing 10 quarts of paint in the middle of a stairwell on a Tuesday afternoon? why not!) and has the technical expertise to pull them off. 

Teaching Artist response: 

I really enjoy working with Erin. I am continually impressed at her art skills and specifically mixing ability! They have been essential in color mixing and providing the beautiful colors we have been using. Communication with them is easy, although at time we both need to communicate more as to our plan. We discuss what we are doing with students, check in with each other, text each other when plans change or if we are running late. The class, much like us, is very organic. When decisions need to be made, we gather, discuss them, make a decision and move on. We have pauses in time, slowing things down and making sure we come together to make sure we are all on the same page as to why we are doing the work we do.

I really enjoyed working with Erin and the students in this program. I really feel that the way the class was structured brought all of us closer together, I was able to develop deep personal relationships through the work we did and the conversations we were able to engage in due to the fact that we slowed down. Erin and I would talk about teaching, cooking, managing stress, and family. Students and I engaged in various discussions about schooling, future plans, systemic racism, playing, the role gender plays in structuring our lives, parenting, being an artist and teacher, and being kind. It was quite amazing!

6. How has the community-focused component of the project contributed to or challenged your teacher/artist collaboration? 

Teacher response: 

I love when teachers and students come up to me and are so excited to tell me how they feel about the stairs, or what they thought when they first saw the new color on a particular stairwell. It was so cool to hear the really in depth responses some people had! 

Our final project for the year was designing outdoor play space in the school garden area. This was definitely the most public of our public art. Students planned to paint picnic tables with chalkboard paint and game boards, and to build an outdoor chess set with 12″x12″ cement pavers. We set out the pavers and started digging them into the ground on a Tuesday and continued the next day. When we returned to the space the following Tuesday, we were dismayed to find that someone had smashed about 25 of our 34 pavers by throwing them at each other. Crumbled cement everywhere. We had to decide as a group how to proceed. With only two days left to work, ultimately we decided to reassemble the pieces that we could and attempted to complete the board. I think I’m still figuring out how I feel about the destruction, and I know my students are too. 

Teaching Artist response:

The community focused component of this project feels natural. I think it became more prevalent when staff, administrators and students began to comment on the work we were creating. The effect it was having on them, how they were slowing down to notice the changes that happened with the light. People were curious as to what would change next, provided us with suggestions, complimented the work we were doing, thanked us for adding more color to the school. Visiting teachers commented how bright and happy the school felt, and how they wished their school had more color. The community component has been exciting to engage,  think about, and to listen to. We get suggestions as to what we should do next, how we should do it, and what colors we sould use. 

The community component made this project what it is. It was the discussions we had with students outside of the class about the work we were interested in doing, the conversations wit the principal and teachers, with the parents. These conversations arised from the work we were doing, from their own curiosity in what we were doing, and from direct and intentional conversations we had aobut what were thinking and what they (the public) would want to see. This made the work a lot of fun, it also helped the students and teachers to think about how we engage a public. How we go about making decisions, and how we deal with situations where te public makes suggestions that completely fall outside of the work we had initally discussed. All these converstions were meaningful and powerful, they helped us thinka critically aboutt he artists role in community art making and the role of the audience. We discussed the planning process, the importnace of making this work, and the ability of art to completely redesign spaces based on the materials and lighting you use.