Youth Mural Project

Post by Jennifer

Jane was excited.  “Guess who’s heading up the first youth mural?”  There wasn’t much room left for guessing.  “You?” I answered, thinking back to the youth mural project she had organized and mentored nearly a decade ago in the Kingfield neighborhood.  “Ta-Coumba Aiken!”  A pause.  A little awkward staring.  Finally I said that I didn’t know what a Ta-Coumba was.

I had to do a little research to find out what a Ta-Coumba was, but it wasn’t hard.  MN Original had aired a story on him in 2011, an informative piece that featured Ta-Coumba’s home/studio/gallery, some of his commissioned public art pieces, and lots of great information on what drives him, what inspires him to create.  I started to understand that scoring a renowned artist like Ta-Coumba for our youth mural was a big deal, moreover, the kids who would be working under his guidance were gaining a very, very cool opportunity.

The first day of the mural project arrived.  One by one teens and tweeners started meandering into the studio sleepy-eyed, begrudgingly, feeling forced into something that maybe wasn’t their idea (it was the second week of summer vacation, after all.)  They gathered around a long table, colored pencils and paper in tow.  Ta-Coumba begins walking them through the first part of the mural process:  creating a design with client in mind.  He explains to them that Jane, their client, wants a mural on the back facade that represents peace, love, healing, art and compassion- all the things her studio and newly formed non-profit, Artescape, stand for.  Students ranging in age from twelve to seventeen begin sketching, some skilled, some shy, but all eager to try. 

Ta-Coumba collects their drawings, takes them home, assembles a layout that incorporates each student’s design.  For the next couple days the students prepare the wall by pressure washing and priming it.  Then it’s ready for Ta-Coumb’s etching pole, a device that’s comparable to a paint brush on a stick.  He spends the following day outlining the wall with red swirls, twists, and contours.

The third day an amazing thing happens.  A few new faces appear.  We hear “This is Ethan, he’s going to help paint today.”  Kids start bringing other kids with them to paint.  My seventeen year old, somewhat free to come and go by the power of his car, shows a sort of commitment I’m unaccustomed to seeing.  He comes willingly to the mural every day; none of the prodding and pleading I’m expecting to have to do.  He brings friends.  His friends bring friends.  They drive, pick up the scaffolding Ta-Coumba’s ordered.  They paint together, meet new peers, make choices, follow Ta-Coumba’s advice.

This is ultimately what impresses me about the youth mural project.  I love the fact that students created individually yet together.  I love that Ta-Coumba didn’t try to control the design but rather focused on leading them through the process.


There are two more youth murals taking place in the Tangletown community this summer.  We would love to have your teen (or tweener) be a part of this fabulous opportunity!