Celia Rayman, a sophomore at the Out-of-Door Academy, carefully brushed off the extra paint from her saturated brush so that her strokes on the mural in front of her would be perfect.
She then went about creating the light pink petals of a flower.
It might only be one flower among 10,000, but this one was going to be as good as possible. Every time she walks past the mural in the stairwell of the upper school's arts center in Lakewood Ranch, she will know she was part of something special.
That something special is the Ten Thousand Flowers project of Pennsylvania artist Tim Gibson.
Gibson has been traveling to communities throughout the country with the goal of working with schools and communities to create a giant mural that would be a mile long if all the murals were connected.
So far, Gibson has traveled and completed murals in 17 states. Once he reaches 10,000 flowers, his mission will be complete. After the contributions of ODA's lower school Nov. 9 and upper school Nov. 11, the flower count stands at 2,860.
Gibson said interacting with those participating is his favorite part of the project.
“It doesn’t matter what state you’re from, what your background is, who you are,” Gibson said. “We’re here having fun painting flowers and connecting everything. I love that I’m able to bring that to people and connect the hundreds of towns around the country.”
ODA's lower school was his first stop in Florida.
Gibson outlined the flower mural for the students who then painted the mural using a paint-by-numbers method. Wherever they saw a dot matching the color paint they were holding is where they painted.
Every ODA student had an opportunity to paint the mural.
Rayman and senior Harper Campbell were both surprised to find out they would have a chance to be a part of the project.
“I have a class upstairs, so I walk up the stairwell every day,” Campbell said. “I thought it was crazy, seeing all the outlines. Then one of my classmates actually told me we were going to be the ones to actually be able to paint it. I thought it was so cool.”
Leslie Garasic, an ODA high school art teacher, was scrolling through Facebook looking for a group activity for middle and high school students when she stumbled on the project.
“I thought, ‘What a cool idea,’” Garasic said. “He’s bringing all these murals together as puzzle pieces. The next one links to the previous one and the following one will link to that. What a great way to bring people together through art.”
For ODA, the mural serves as a dual purpose. It’s an opportunity for all students to work on a mural together, but also it links the school’s lower school in Siesta Key to the upper school in Lakewood Ranch.
“Our roots are from the lower campus,” Garasic said. “Our history was made there. Sometimes I think we forget about that little magical place down on the key that feeds into here, where it becomes more of a collegiate type of atmosphere.”
Garasic said the mural reminds ODA of what the school’s founders wanted for the school.
“They loved outdoor living, they loved the arts, they loved the academics," she said. "That brings people together. Art is a great way to bring people together.”
She said all students were engaged in the project, whether the student was in pre-K or a senior in high school.
“The stairwell echoes so much, but you could hear a pin drop,” she said. “They were so focused and just happy to be in the process of painting. Even the little ones down at the lower school were the same way. They were so quiet and focused on getting to paint something that was bigger than them and wrapped all through their stairwell.”
Garasic looks forward to when the students move from the lower school to the upper school, and they’ll be able to see a familiar mural at the upper school.
“They’ll eventually come up here, walk through the stairwell and be like, ‘Oh, this is just like what we painted down at the lower school and it grew with us,’” she said. “It’ll remind them of a good memory.”
Georgia Henry, a sixth grader, said participating in the mural project gave each of the students an opportunity to leave their mark on the ODA campuses.
Sixth grader Mason Hunn said it was a privilege to be a part of a national project because not everyone can say they were a part of the Ten Thousand Flowers Project.
At the upper school, a small group of middle and high school students would go into the stairwell for about 15 minutes to paint before another group would paint.
Campbell said being able to paint the mural was a good break from the day and a mindless activity where they could have fun.
Gibson said the design of the mural allows for anyone to paint no matter their painting abilities, which Rayman appreciated.
“I enjoy painting, but I’m not good at actually painting because I’m not a very good artist,” Rayman said.
Liz Ramos covers education and community for East County. Before moving to Florida, Liz was an education reporter for the Lynchburg News & Advance in Virginia for two years after graduating from the Missouri School of Journalism.