5 Tips for Organizing a Successful School Mural Event

May 5, 2024
School Murals
Hiep Nguyen

          A few years ago, an art teacher, Mr. B. Stanton, from the Compton School District reached out to me, sharing his vision of bringing the "art for all, and all for art" Circle Painting to every school in the district. He told me that his school was really run down and depressing. He is convinced that collaborative community-based mural would beautify the environment and lift the spirit of all the members. He then recommended to his principal how the project would be an excellent opportunity for team-building and professional development for their teachers and staff.  He also shared the project’s potential impacts with the district art supervisor, who agreed to help him pitch the idea to the school board. As a result of the excitement and support he generated, he was able to secure the funding for Circle Painting murals in several of the Compton area schools.  Check out this video to see one of our school murals in action.

         If you have been searching for ways to immediately bring teachers, staff, and students together and to beautify your school setting, creating a collaborative mural is perhaps the most impactful thing you can do. Students and teachers who return to the school years later will be reminded of the process and their part in it, creating a life-long connection not only to space but the community they helped create.

Having planned and executed many collaborative murals over the past 10 years, I have put together a list of the 5 most important things to consider to lead a successful collaborative mural project. If you would like more information on how we can help you create inspiring visual spaces in your school, scroll to the end of the article for our contact information. 

1. Involve everyone

         Even before you start planning the theme for the mural, talk to the organizer about inviting everyone to participate. Don’t let the administrators tell you they are too busy to participate.  Insist that they do! I mean it. When you get the leadership team involved, you will get the support that you need. Besides, what value will be given to the project if they can’t make time to join in? Also think about the janitorial staff, cafeteria workers, the bus drivers, and the crossing guard. How will they feel if they are left out of the process? Invite everyone to be a part of the process. You want to create a sense of “we are in it together.”

2. Survey the Site        

         Before you decide what to paint, you need to see what you’re working with. Even if the client or group has an idea for the placement of the mural, you as the professional know what surfaces and conditions will work best. For instance, try not to place murals in full, direct sunlight or the path of the irrigation system or on crumbling stucco walls. If the mural is to be painted on the floor, it’s best to have a roof or cover over the space so that exposure to the weather doesn’t cause premature wear. Even if the conditions or placement aren’t ideal, you can still use a location; let the host team know the mural might not last as long or need to be touched up more often.

3. Create a Plan and Theme

Before you start a collaborative mural project, you need to develop a plan.  It usually takes about 4- 5 days to complete the mural, depending on the size of the wall(s) as well as the number of participants.  For example: 

  • Day 1: Meet with the host organizing team, survey the location, and clean the painting surfaces.
  • Day 2: Orientation workshop for staff, volunteers, prepping the painting surfaces, and create some samples of artworks
  • Day 3: Community painting day that involves as many participants as possible. 
  • Day 4: Final touch-up day that involves the art facilitators team and volunteers. 
  • Day 5: Unveiling the artwork and Celebration day

* Note: The timeline above does not have to be consecutive days.

         I suggest that you start the painting process with an orientation team-building activity for the organizing team and volunteers so they are familiar with the process and will be ready to assist you at the community mural event. This is an opportunity for the team to create a few sample banners for their office. The idea is to generate excitement and engagement for these folks; once you have them hooked, you will get the support that you need, and the rest of the project will go much smoother.

         During this initial workshop, you help the host to develop the theme and schedule for the mural. You can ask the host for words, phrases, concepts, or images they wish to incorporate into the mural. I also collect images and ideas from the banners or artwork that were created in the orientation to put into the mural itself. This time is also used for scheduling. You want to make sure that you allow enough time to not only cover the area you select but also to give everyone a chance to pitch in.

4. Deep Clean and Seal

         Before you start painting, you will want  to deep clean the area to be painted. Most exterior surfaces can be power washed. This is usually done two days before the painting begins. The day before you paint, seal, and prime the surface. Sealing prevents mildew and mold from growing underneath the paint, and priming prepares the surface to accept the paint. Do not skip this part! How disappointing it would be to see all your hard work start to discolor or flake off after only a few months!

5. Celebrate the End of the Project

         This is also something I emphasize when I facilitate a collaborative mural project. The day after the painting is finished, the details are added, and the final sealant applied, we celebrate. Celebrating the end of the project is almost as important as involving everyone. Participants can share stories pointing to the places that they made their mark. They become part of something bigger than they are, both literally and figuratively.


        You might be wondering why I didn’t talk about the kinds of paint to use or how to transfer your ideas from a small sheet of paper to a big wall. That information can be found with a quick internet search. To me, the mural itself is not what matters most. Yes, it will be beautiful and people will love looking at it. But more than that, the process of creating the mural is what participants will remember. Their involvement is what gives them ownership and pride. Being able to make their mark will form the connection to the community and the people in it.

         If you want to know more about how we can help you facilitate a collaborative mural project in your place of business, your school, or your community, contact us or learn more about our school-based programs or community events. We hope to paint with you very soon.