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Planned murals would brighten blank walls at Ridley and Baker schools

The Florida Ruffin Ridley School. Photo by John Phelan via Wikimedia Commons.
August 3, 2023

The wall outside the entrance to the Florida Ruffin Ridley School in Coolidge Corner is a blank expanse of brick. A planned mural would transform that canvas into a celebration of the life of the suffragette, civil rights activist, teacher and journalist for who the school was renamed in 2021.

Across town, in South Brookline, a local artist worked with eighth graders at the Edith Baker School to design a mural that would turn a blank wall at that school into a celebration of nature, community and growth.

The two mural projects, which await final approval by the School Committee, are the result of a collaboration between the schools and the Brookline Commission for the Arts.

“We believe public art is a key ingredient in building and engaging with our community,” Andy Dean, co-chair of the arts commission, wrote in an email to Brookline.News. “It’s a way to represent our values, to create dialogue, to draw folks out into our commercial centers, and it’s a way to beautify our neighborhoods.”

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Florida Ruffin Ridley School

The Ruffin Ridley School mural will be designed to “help the community understand a little bit more about who she is and what she worked for,” Ridley Principal Jennifer Buller told the School Committee.

The school was renamed after Ridley in 2020 after a monthslong community process, removing the name of Edward Devotion, who owned one or more enslaved people. Ridley (1861-1943) was one of the first female Black teachers in Boston and was involved in the women’s suffrage and anti-lynching movements of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. After moving to Kent Street in 1896, she was an involved community member in addition to being known as a talented writer and editor of a journal for Black women. She and her husband, Ulysses A. Ridley, are believed to be among the first Black homeowners in Brookline.

The arts commission and Jason Kokones, a Brookline native who co-founded Impact Walls, a public-art nonprofit organization, will select a professional artist from among five under consideration.

Fundraising for the Ruffin Ridley School mural began last year at the Brookline Public Art Frolic, a special event held at the Joan & Edgar Booth Theatre at Boston University. The Frolic included food, music, and dancing along with a silent auction to raise money for various art projects around Brookline.

Edith C. Baker School

At the Baker School, Brookline-based artist Marcy Sacks and eighth graders collaborated to capture a theme of individual and community growth. The mural will incorporate elements of nearby nature as well as the word “welcome” translated into the 39 languages represented in the Baker community. The public will be invited to help paint the mural in the fall, once the design is finalized.

The Baker School mural received a grant from the arts commission through the Massachusetts Cultural Council, which will help pay for materials, Dean said. MCC’s Local Cultural Council program distributes more than $5 million each year in state funding to support the arts across Massachusetts.

Going forward

After discussions with the School Committee, both murals will also be completed on boards rather than directly on the walls, which will allow the art to be relocated without damaging the building.

Though they have secured funding, the mural projects at both schools are still waiting for approval by the committee. This is the first time in recent memory that schools have requested exterior murals, Dean said, and surveys of the school communities have found public support for the project.

“I think we have a great opportunity here,” Dean said. “What better place than on our schools to show what difference art can make?”