Students spend summer painting mural to show world 'what Loyola is about' (VIDEO)

Members of Jesuit school's art club work with Detroit artist to 'create something beautiful' on northwest-side campus

DETROIT — Loyola High School teaches its students to make a mark on the world. This summer, a few dedicated Bulldogs made their mark on the school.

Half a dozen members of Loyola's art club spent the summer designing, sketching and painting a new mural on one of the school's exterior walls, welcoming students and guests and proclaiming Loyola values to the world.

Local artist Jesse Stark worked with the students on creating the large-scale mural, called “Love to Loyola.”

The idea for the mural began after the roof of the former auxiliary chapel at St. Peter Claver Parish on the Loyola campus collapsed in January 2017. Eventually, the building was demolished, leaving behind a blank brick wall.

“We’ve been looking at this wall, knowing we wanted to use the space to make the campus feel more welcoming and open,” said Jenny Fox, a counselor and former art teacher at the all-boys Jesuit high school in northwest Detroit. 

Members of Loyola High School's Art Club put the finishing touches on a new mural on the northwest Detroit Jesuit school's campus Aug. 11. Students worked with Detroit-based artist Jesse Stark to create the mural, which was commissioned after the former auxiliary chapel at St. Peter Claver Parish, on the school's property, was demolished after the roof collapsed in 2017. (Photos by Naomi Vrazo | Detroit Catholic)

In May, Loyola approached the Birmingham-Bloomfield Art Center, which had initially inquired about becoming involved in Loyola's art program, with an idea for the space. 

“We told them we have this giant wall and were looking for an artist to do a mural project with the students,” Fox said.

That led to the school's partnership with Stark, a Detroit-based artist originally from Miami who has been making large canvasses in Detroit for the past 12 years. Stark began working with Loyola's art club, brainstorming ideas for a mural, sketching concepts and going over intricacies of the project.

“We spent a month leading up to sketching, once a week for an hour, running the students through the development of the process, the ideas, the sketching and design, a mashup of everyone’s ideas,” Stark said. “In the end, the reward is painting it.” 

Stark and the students did just that in August, completing the giant mural just in time for school to start. When a visitor pulls into Loyola's entrance from Monte Vista Avenue, they're met with bright, colorful letters spelling “Loyola,” with each letter celebrating a different element of the school's mission. 

“We came up with about 15 elements in the main idea, talking about Loyola, family, education, AMDG (Ad Majorem Dei Gloriam, the motto of the Jesuits, meaning “For the greater glory of God”), being the future, the youth of Detroit, being a predominately black school, our graduation rate and 100 percent college acceptance — all those things are in the mural,” Fox said. “We had about five to 10 students involved in the beginning stages, and during the summer a group of five or six consistent students spent their summers out here working.”

Students put the finishing touches on a mural at Loyola High School on Detroit's northwest side. The mural was completed by members of the school's art club. (Photos by Naomi Vrazo | Detroit Catholic)

The school hosted a mural-revealing party Aug. 11, when the students added the finishing touches to the project. 

The party was a chance for guests to see the mural-painting process, which involved the playing of music, food, laughter and students getting tips from Stark on the different spray-painting techniques that go into painting a mural.

“Hopefully after this mural, we can expand this program,” said James Thompson, a junior at Loyola who spent the summer documenting the mural’s progress on video. “We’re thinking about recreating different types of murals around not only our building, but the community, so we can bring men — not only our age, but men and families in general — together to create something beautiful.”

Thompson added the mural is meant to inspire the entire neighborhood surrounding the school, established in 1993 as a partnership between the Society of Jesus and the Archdiocese of Detroit.

Loyola art club students laugh and joke with one another as they paint a new mural at the northwest Detroit school.

“It’s been amazing working with Jesse. He has taught us so much; he has considered becoming my mentor,” Thompson said. “When he sets his mind to it, he goes straight for it, wasting no time. It’s going to be amazing when school starts, when I see something like this, so big, I see it going worldwide. I want people to see what Loyola is about.

“Loyola is mostly known for its sports,” Thompson continued, “but we want people around the world to know Loyola has many different talented kids in academics and the arts.”

For artists such as Stark, spending the summer working with students and teaching a craft is a reward unto itself.

“It means everything to be a teacher and a student at the same time,” Stark said. “In the end, you’re going to meet the great almighty God when it’s over. And we have to think about what we know and didn’t give away before we leave. If you've learned something, you have to teach it, even if you don’t know it perfectly.”

Stark added he'd like to see the project spark a further interest in beautification and the arts among Detroit students. 

A student hands a can of spray paint to Jesse Stark, a Detroit-based artist who served as the students' mentor during the summer-long project.

“These students are out there, having a good time, I’m having a good time, painting a big mural with friends, learning something new,” Stark said. “We have a good time with jokes, playing music, doing something special for the community and the school. I think this is one of the best places where you can spend the summer.”

As school starts, the students who created the mural look with pride at a creation many of their classmates will see for the first time when school starts, knowing their time spent creating something beautiful will be remembered long after they leave Loyola.

“From doing this big mural, we started off as friends, but now we’re more of a family,” junior Brandon Jones said. “Coming together over the summer, as brothers, we showed what we can do for the community.”