“Very nice!” a passerby says to artist Andy Eccleshall. “I like it.”

He’s heard that a lot over the past week.

Stationed along West McGraw Street, just to the east of 32nd Avenue West, he worked to transform a blank beige wall into a lasting interactive neighborhood mural, bursting with birds on a bright blue backdrop.

But this is about much more than an artist and a mural.

This is about an entire community.

The dedication of the latest piece of neighborhood art, set for Sept. 8 at noon, marks the culmination of “The Mural Project,” sponsored by the Magnolia Art Experience (MAX), Magnolia Chamber of Commerce, and the Seattle Department of Neighborhoods.

The process began with a grant awarded to the chamber last year to increase the visibility and vibrancy of the neighborhood and its retail core. Now-MAX Vice President Claudia Newman was inspired by the work of artist Kelsey Montague and her #WhatLiftsYou wing murals, as she considered how best to bring everyone together.

“We started to bring the schematics to the table with the chamber and all the players, and everybody was ecstatic that this could be such a potential wonderful community project,” she said.

At the forefront of said project — and the finished mural — is the work of students at three area schools: Catharine Blaine, Our Lady of Fatima, and Lawton Elementary.

Students at each school were given an envelope — big enough to dwarf some of the youngest children participating, Newman noted — with information about the project, and a blank bird to design. The birds were specific to the schools, with white pigeons given to those at Blaine, black crows for those at Fatima, and yellow starlings for those at Lawton. On the finished mural, they fly together.

“Rather than being separate, we’re also standing for unity and collaboration and creativity that makes the entire experience more beautiful, and yet still honors individuality,” said MAX President Nancy Gellos

The choice of birds was also deliberate, three that can be found in the neighborhood.

As part of the grant requirements, the work couldn’t be completed on school time, or school grounds, meaning the entirely voluntary effort had to be completed at home. That said, of the 1,500-plus birds distributed, there was no idea just how many would return.

But approximately two-thirds would ultimately come home to roost.

“There’s a lot to be learned about what young people’s opportunities are to actually really be able to express themselves with a whole ton of rules,” Gellos said.

And no two of the approximately 1,000 completed birds were alike.

“I think we’ll be able to show by example in a real live situation the varying degrees of what a successful approach to this project is, because no two are alike,” Gellos said. “It’s beautiful that way.”

Of the submissions, six from each school were chosen — after several rounds of sorting and debate — for inclusion on the mural. Some of the others can be seen in the windows of local businesses in the lead-up to the unveiling.

“If you’ve ever watched a mural being painted, you want to see what else is coming next,” Gellos said. “Thy don’t know whose birds are picked, they don’t know whose are going to be there, and that’s part of the fun of it.”

Meanwhile, Eccleshall was approached to take on painting the mural.

“I can’t say I’ve done one like this before,” he said. “That’s probably why it was such good fun, to do something a little bit different.”

While he’s done other community work in the past, he found the inclusion of the children’s work to be particularly interesting.

“I think that’s really cool,” he said. “It’s a great idea, because the kids get to see their work go up on the wall, and that’s pretty inspiring for them, right? And anything that gets them interested in art and creativity I think is a good thing.”

The finished product is meant to be interactive, by virtue of the scale and movement, as the birds start out small, and get bigger along the wall, culminating in the chosen work of students.

“A little girl could go up and hold their hand [in front] to hold a bird up,” Newman said.

The mural is also an opportunity for MAX to spread its message. Board member Camberly Gilmartin said the project connects to the nonprofit’s greater mission of engaging and building community through access to the arts, and providing meaningful art encounters.

“[It’s] getting the community talking and connecting with one another on a fun, light, level, and that’s what I think’s really special about the project and is kind of unique, because that’s something that I think all communities everywhere could use a little more of,” she said.

In fact, she noted, its something the whole world could use.

“We’re trying to whisper it here, but our hope is that it will trickle through bigger and bigger and bigger,” Gilmartin said.

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