Introducing Underserved Kids to the Uplifting Power of Color

By Bobbie Fisch / November 09, 2017

(This story is the twelfth in a series to celebrate the 20-year anniversary of TEF Design. Check our blog for newly published, stories about our firm’s people, our community, and what drives us to design.)

At the beginning of this year, when we were discussing how to celebrate TEF’s 20th anniversary, we decided that as part of it, we wanted to do something special to give back to the community. Not long after that discussion, I attended an evening design event sponsored by Herman Miller. At this event, Laura Guido-Clark, the founder of Project Color Corps, gave a presentation about the power of color. Project Color Corps is a Berkeley-based 501(c)3 nonprofit dedicated to painting inner-city neighborhoods with colors and patterns that communicate messages of optimism and hope.

Project Color Corps helps schools in under-served communities that often have drab or deteriorating paint. The organization partners with artists or design firms to create exterior environments, holds workshops with students, staff, and faculty to teach them about the expressive power of color; invites students to vote on their favorite color scheme; and then administers the project, which involves obtaining donations, hiring professional painters, organizing volunteers, and even renting scaffolding.

Laura and I have known each other since the beginning of our careers. In fact, she worked with my husband doing textile work for Ferguson-Hildreth. I was truly excited by the good work Project Color Corps is doing. The day after her presentation, I talked with Doug Tom about collaborating with her somehow.

Caliber School exterior, nearing completion

Caliber School central courtyard, nearing completion

There was a school project of ours on the boards that was already all about color. It’s for Caliber Schools, a Bay Area charter school that aims to provide students in historically under-served communities with a rigorous education that prepares them for a four-year college. We’re creating a permanent home for Caliber’s ChangeMakers Academy in Vallejo, which serves 470 kindergarten through eighth-graders. Its a new two-story concrete tilt-up building. A central courtyard will house an amphitheater with stadium seating.
Caliber’s director had asked us for a super-colorful building, so it seemed like a perfect project to collaborate with Project Color Corps on. We’d already chosen an array of vibrant colors for the building’s exterior. So we decided to work with Project Color Corps to incorporate a mural in the school courtyard, on the north wall including the ground plane, up the stadium stairs.

In the past, Project Color Corps has always worked on existing school facilities, where the students are already familiar with the buildings. In this case, the school is under construction right now, so the kids and the faculty haven’t experienced being in the facility yet. But we know a lot about the site. We know the neighborhood. And we know who the students are.

TEF mural pin-up and critique in October

We invited Laura to visit TEF and give a presentation about Project Color Corps at one of our weekly afternoon TEF Talks. Afterward, we broke into four teams and came up with four possible themes for the mural: native plants, local topography, pop art, and mega-graphics. Earlier this month, we presented all four designs to Caliber for the principal and leadership to choose one. They selected the mega graphic mural that incorporates Caliber’s four pillars – qualities they aim to instill in every graduate: heart, smart, think and act. The words are depicted in multiple languages.

sketch of proposed mega graphic mural

model of proposed mega graphic mural

A couple of weeks ago, Project Color Corps made two presentations to the students. They talked about the power of color and color theory, how different colors make you feel different things: safe, happy, sad.  The focus was on helping kids see the connections between colors and emotion.  They left behind a survey for the students to choose their favorite colors and identify adjectives and nouns that represent how those colors make them feel. In the coming week, Project Color Corps will analyze these surveys and generate a word cloud from these adjectives and nouns. Drawing on the most popular ideas, they will come up with two color palettes, both of which incorporate the colors the students have chosen. Each color palette gets a fun, two-word name: for one past project, they dubbed the palettes “Natural Brave” and “Stellar Fun.”

Caliber students gain new insight into color from their Color Seminar with Color Corps

This month, students will gather on “Voting Day” to select which color palette they like best. We’ll incorporate the chosen color palette into the mural. And we’ll come back for “Volunteer Painting Day,” in January, along with other volunteers and the kids, who will get to be part of seeing their vision for the mural come alive before their very eyes, with the colors they chose themselves. They get to see that they can have a voice in what their learning environment looks like and how it makes them feel. And they get to tap into the uplifting and inspiring power of color.