Drawing inspiration

September 12, 2017 | GET MORE : Social Responsibility

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Milwaukee artists helped kick off the school year by sharing their work and their stories with students.

As a kid, Rudy Gutierrez yearned to play an instrument. His passion was there but with three siblings, money was tight and his family simply couldn't afford the hobby. Just recently, the 53-year-old banker has finally taken up piano.

In his role at U.S. Bank managing a branch in a primarily low-income neighborhood, Gutierrez has found that his experience is more often rule than exception. 

To help bridge the gap for kids like him, Gutierrez (pictured above) got involved with Milwaukee nonprofit Arts @ Large, which provides arts programming to K-12 students. To kick off the Milwaukee Public Schools "Year of the Arts," U.S. Bank through its Community Possible Month of Play initiative donated $50,000 to Arts @ Large for artists and students to create murals that bring to life the core values of three local schools. 

"Art can bring together people from all walks of life," said Gutierrez. "And these murals will put on display what happens when people come together."

It didn't take long for Gutierrez to realize the artists are as inspiring as their work.

Muneer Bahauddeen (pictured above) discovered his passion in a grade-school art class back in the 1950s. He credits art teachers from that point through college at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago for launching his career as a nationally-recognized visual artist. Throughout the summer, he worked hand-in-hand with students at the Anna F. Doerfler School creating clay and ceramic tile murals featuring Mayan, Ghanaian and Hmong symbols to represent the diverse student population.

"I hope this project plants seeds of creativity in students," Bahauddeen said. "Success, for me, is seeing them use art to embrace their own culture and respect that of others."

In addition to deepening Bahauddeen's understanding of other cultures, art opened his eyes to career opportunities – he pointed out that buildings, clothes, songs and much more all start with an artist.

"With art," he said. "You can have it all."

Ken Brown (pictured above on right) took the leap as a full-time professional artist just a year ago after nearly two decades in the corporate world. Art, however, has always been his true passion, ever since watching his mother paint "ever so effortlessly" when he was young. This summer with help from students at Harold S. Vincent School, Brown created six murals representing each of the agriculture-focused school's academic tracks: culinary arts, food science, agribusiness entrepreneurship, animal science, horticulture science and environmental science. 

"It's about much more than school colors," Brown explained. "It's a vibrant expression of this school's mission and values."

With that in mind, he designed the murals to be mobile so that students – artistically-inclined or not – can use them as they present agricultural projects at events like the Wisconsin State Fair.

"Art relates to so many facets of life," he said. "It starts with a sketch and then who knows where your imagination will lead. Never give up on a picture. Erase if you need to. But finish it."

Reynaldo Hernandez (pictured above) is a lifelong artist known for high-profile outdoor community murals throughout Milwaukee. His passion for mural art lies in part with its history as a vehicle for expression, pointing out its rebirth during the Civil Rights Movement. 

A mural can bring together a community, Hernandez says. "I've gone into some rough neighborhoods where people would say 'Oh, you don't want to do that here.' But years later it's not only still there, but the surrounding yards and sidewalks have been fixed up, too. A mural can instill pride and a sense of 'You can do it.'"

Over the past month, Hernandez worked with members of Barack Obama School of Career and Technical Education's football team to paint a portrait of the school's namesake, former President Barack Obama, along with the saying "We Manufacture Hope." The piece will be on display at the school's main entrance. 

Inspiring young people through art is nothing new to Hernandez, who has six children – four of whom are artists.

"Keep drawing," he told students at the unveiling, "and don't let anyone discourage you."

Pat Swanson is a member of U.S. Bank's public affairs and communications team.

Photos of Rudy Gutierrez, Muneer Bahauddeen and Ken Brown taken by Michael Snowden. Photo of Reynaldo Hernandez taken by Ken Brown.