The Lunchroom Transformation Project at George Washington High School

 In The CAPE Blog

This post highlights a project from our upcoming Shifting Boundaries exhibition, which will run March 1-9, 2018, at Hairpin Arts Center. Click here to learn more about Shifting Boundaries, including public gallery hours.

The Lunchroom Transformation Project (LTP) is an incredible work of collaborative, energizing, living art creation at George Washington High School.  Students from the LTP are currently working on an installation for the Shifting Boundaries exhibition that will create a temporary makerspace in the gallery that evokes the same creativity and explorations as their space back at GWHS. This pop-up makerspace is being constructed by hanging recycled measuring wheels, kindly donated by SCARCE, in Glen Ellyn, to create a space full of supplies for inspired gallery visitors to make art pieces that will later be installed back in the GWHS lunchroom to contribute to the Lunchroom Transformation Project.

The students at George Washington High School honed in on the school’s lunchroom as a site for artistic exploration and community action. When CAPE’s after-school program began at GWHS, the lunchroom was viewed by many students as a hostile, stressful environment where students were required to enter the space in single file lines, quickly get their food, eat, and leave with minimal social interaction. The school security guards maintained this protocol for students in an effort to reduce the possibility of fights breaking out, though the fights continued. The after-school program soon gave rise to the Lunchroom Transformation Project, in which a group of motivated students asked:

“How can we, through an interactive site specific installation, create a space, that will foster community engagement and exchanges between students?”

The LTP invites students to come after school to be a part of a makerspace. During the past three years they’ve accomplished some incredible things:

  • Painted numerous colorful, large-scale murals on the walls of the lunchroom with positive messages
  • Installed thought-provoking, participatory 3D art pieces in the space of the lunchroom
  • Created a dazzling stage and performance space at one end of the lunchroom

The effect of the art pieces has been to create a calmer and more jovial atmosphere during the school lunch periods. The numbers of students involved in the LTP has increased each year of the CAPE after-school program, which has helped foster:

  • A more widespread sense of shared ownership of the space
  • An increased respect for and treatment of the space
  • A decrease in student misconduct during lunch periods

The Lunchroom Transformation Project continues to provide an opportunity for students in the program to learn multiple art-making and art installation skills while also engaging students- those in the program and not- in a broader conversation about social and emotional wellbeing and providing an opportunity for community building and student agency in daily school life.

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