Many in Portland know artist Alex Chiu for his massive, detailed and uplifting mural at the 82nd Avenue MAX station. The mural was covered in newspapers and radio, including a lengthy piece by OPB. It’s quite an achievement and a highlight of Portland’s mural scene. One of the people who saw him painting it as she came home from work was Monet Hampson, who has a child at Prescott Elementary in Parkrose. “I had just passed Alex painting at the 82nd Avenue TriMet bus stop, and I thought it was beautiful and really cool, and he was painting families and things downtown and children,” says Hampson of seeing Chiu’s work just when she was also setting about searching for a mural artist for the school.
The school’s existing mural had been done over a decade prior by a parent from the school. With the arrival of a new principal, Sam Maranto, now finishing his third year at the school, the idea was put forth to have a new mural. “Prescott Elementary is a Title One school, so it’s very underfunded. We didn’t have the funds for this project. It’s just a thing that I wanted to make happen, so I was personally committed to raising the money if we procured an artist we could afford,” says Hampson.
She emailed Chiu, who is himself a stay-at-home father of a young child—the inspiration for the mural he painted at 82nd Avenue—about the prospect of hiring him to do a new mural. To Hampson’s surprise and delight, he was very receptive of the idea and visited Prescott with his young daughter.
“He came and visited within a week. He checked out the wall, and we agreed immediately about the message being timely—about positive representations in art—especially in communities where kids could see kids who look like themselves,” says Hampson.
Chiu did a series of photo shoots with kids from the schools playing with different props, like musical instruments, and used that as the basis for the mural.
Superintendent Dr. Karen Fischer Gray, who is leaving Parkrose for the Lincoln County superintendent position, approved the project as one of her final initiatives at Parkrose. And Chiu was on board, despite the funding not yet being secured. That’s just how much he believed in the project. But Hampson still needed to secure his fee. “We proposed this idea to the Parkrose Educational Foundation, and they agreed to fund half his $1,500 fee, of which was awesome,” says Hampson. The parent group at Prescott, which Hampson is a member of, is funding the other half, using funds they had raised last year for playground renovation.
Aside from the beauty and value added by the final product, Chiu is adding an educational element to the creation of the mural as he paints, allowing the students to join the process in a variety of ways. “The classes come out and sit and he explains to them what a mural is,” says Hampson, describing how he teaches them and inquiries about their perceptions of art, asking them “what they think it means. He set up plywood boards for the kids to paint on, so they could understand what he does.”
Hampson is an artist herself, working as a graphic designer by trade, with a daughter in second grade at Prescott, and she places a high value—as do many other parents at the school—with the children being exposed to art and its creation by talented professionals who can expand their appreciation and understanding of art and themselves.
Plus, at the end of the day, the mural is a portrait of actual students at Prescott, which is a huge thrill for students and parents alike.
“Of course, the kids featured in it are excited,” says Hampson, but she notes one of the more heartwarming developments in the story—and there are many—is the support from the children who participated in the photoshoots but were not ultimately selected to be painted into the mural. “The other kids who weren’t chosen are genuinely happy for their peers,” says Hampson, “so it’s great.”