The word “culture” can be difficult to define—it can shift and change depending on values, community, history, region and more.

That’s the core lesson that local artists Lawrence Pitre and Erin Shigaki wanted to pass on to local students who recently had the opportunity to illustrate what culture means to them. Vulcan Real Estate partnered with Washington Middle School, Thurgood Marshall, Leschi Elementary and Seattle Girls School to organize a community art project centered around the future apartments at 23rd and Jackson. Students were encouraged to artistically interpret what culture means to them. Artists Pitre and Shigaki then arranged the student art on 22 large wood panels, which the students hand painted themselves.

Since April students have been transforming the blank panels into colorful works of art, each displaying words and phrases like “the dreams begin,” “this is who I am,” and “be proud of every culture.” The text is complemented by whimsical designs featuring depictions of families, school activities, animals, food and more.

Lawrence Pitre teamed with longtime friend and fellow local artist Erin Shigaki to design, facilitate, and create the panels. Pitre was especially passionate about the project since he was raised in Seattle’s Central District—a “potpourri” of community as he describes it.

“This project provided an incredible platform for the youth to illustrate what culture means to them,” Pitre said. “And at the end of the day, the kids were able to see themselves as part of the greater community.”

Students, families and community members celebrated the completed murals on June 23rd. Vulcan’s longtime nonprofit partner Youth in Focus also attended the festivities and documented the artwork. Tougo Coffee provided refreshments.

“When you give kids a platform and a voice, you can really see some amazing things,” Pitre said. “As adults we so often like to color inside the lines, but we have to let our kids embrace their creativity.

To have that showcased in the community is truly amazing.”To protect and preserve the original artwork, the panels will be transposed onto large banners and installed around the construction fencing in July.  The original art panels will be distributed to the participating schools and local businesses for display.

In the meantime, all of the panels are viewable in an online album at this link: www.youthinfocus.smugmug.com.

For more information on Youth in Focus and to see more photos from the event, visit www.youthinfocus.org. For more information on the artists visit www.lcpitre.com and www.purplegatedesign.com.
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