Eric Sutton has been the art teacher at Loper Elementary School in Shelbyville, Indiana for 22 years. Eric always knew that he wanted to teach in the public school system. His charisma and genuine kindness has helped Eric pursue his passion for teaching and for the arts.
Eric was nominated for Fresh StART, an Arts for Learning program, by the Blue River Foundation in Shelbyville. “After being nominated I talked to Ploi who helped me understand what the program entailed.” Through this program, students meet and collaborate with an artist to create an artwork that transforms a space in their school. This process started the creation of the mural at Loper Elementary.
After meeting with our staff, Eric moved forward with the Fresh StART project. Students at Loper Elementary would be involved in planning and co-creating a mural with Artur Silva, a well-known Indianapolis-based visual artist. The project was made possible by grants from the Lee Marks-John DePrez Community Arts Fund at Blue River Community Foundation (BRCF) and BRCF Community Endowment Fund.
To start the project, Eric worked with Bonnie Maurer, an Arts for Learning teaching artist, who came to Loper Elementary to lead six, 45-minute workshops. “The workshops were about kindness and why everyone is beautiful and unique in their own way,” Eric described Bonnie’s work with the students as a truly unique experience. “The work she got out of the students was amazing and very personal.” In a matter of 45 minutes, Bonnie stirred the curiosity of students with imaginative questions and creative exercises. Using their imagination and creative abilities, the students produced exceptional poems and drawings that sparked interest and conversation among the faculty, teachers, and students.
Eric was a key figure in helping to plan and receive grants for the project. “I had been set on having Artur Silva be the artist we collaborated with. But we ran into an obstacle when he said that he needed another $5,000 to complete the project.” Eric took the time to photocopy the student’s poems and give them to the Program Director of the Blue River Foundation, Lynne Ensminger, who then shared them with the board of directors. After reading the students poems, the board members felt a deeper connection to the students and the project. They even told Lynne that one of the main reasons they decided to donate the money was a result from the experience of reading the poems.
The project was finished and revealed in May, and the reception from the students and the faculty was extremely positive. The mural is eight-feet tall and 43-feet wide, and stretches down an entire hallway of the school. Students pass this mural daily and admire the art that was created. Schools are not always beautiful and inviting spaces, but art has the ability to transform a space, and that is what happened at Loper Elementary school. “The students and the principal were all amazed by the mural, and really, really love it and love looking at it.” Not only were the students and teachers amazed, but the board and investors were absolutely blown away with the end result.
Eric is a firm believer in the arts and the power of art. “The arts speak to us, it’s about humanity. Art changes your perspective and teaches people about life. I firmly believe that the arts saved me in high-school and that being able to exercise my passion has changed my life.”
Written by Olivia Funderburg and edited by Anya Stucky