After-school program unveils new mosaics at Rainier Valley Cultural Center

Larger than life mermaid and Neptune mosaic figures and a glimmering seashell newly adorn the lower lobby of the Rainer Valley Cultural Center (RVCC) at 3515 S. Alaska St. The artwork was created by artist Mauricio Robalino and students from area middle-schools through the after school programs operated by the SouthEast Effective Development's Public Art Workshop and the Inside-Out Art Program of the Seattle Children's Museum. The artwork was dedicated on Friday, Dec. 17 at 5 p.m. at RVCC.

The dedication was a part of the RVCC's open house, which celebrated the recent completion of an extensive renovation project. The two-hour open house featured, along with the kid's artwork, free music and refreshments provided by corporate sponsors Wizards of the Coast. The renovation began in August and included interior upgrades to the ceiling and lighting, installation of a new floor and storage cabinets, miscellaneous repairs throughout the building, and painting of the community room. Outside, the renovation effort included lighting the center's sign in the parking lot, and scheduling repairs for the building's front columns.

The Public Art Workshop, a SEED program that brings together youth with professional artists to create public art, partnered with the Inside-Out Art Program, an after-school function housed at Rainier Vista. A group of fifteen students ranging in age from eleven to thirteen, created the three-part glass mosaic under Robalino's guidance, with help from Inside-Out staff Anna Tucker and Sonia Mercado, during ten, three-hour sessions this fall. The artwork was installed in the RVCC's lower-level hallway beside the restrooms. The mermaid is next to the women's bathroom and Neptune is by the men's. Additionally, the seashell fits above the water fountain. A fish figure is embedded in the mermaid, becoming her torso. The body of the fish shimmers with vibrant rondels, round glass beads that suggest scales. The surfaces of all three mosaics are luminous as if covered by water.

"We worked with the ideas of bodily functions and water, and came up with these images," said Robalino, who created the mosaic sign featured in front of the RVCC. "The mythological figures also work well with the Greek revival architecture of the building."

Robalino drafted the figures on plywood and showed the students how to use tools to cut and shape the shards of colored glass. The students experienced the project from conception to completion: from initial ideas and drawings, to cutting the glass and gluing the mosaic into place, to grouting and hanging the panels.

Starting out as a painter, Robalino, while in graduate school, was asked to do a mosaic swimming pool. During the process, he learned to work with glass just as the Rainier Vista students have, by getting their hands dirty and doing the work. During the RVCC mural project, the students learned to make choices in color, shape, and placement while simultaneously trusting their increasing ability to use the materials, understand the properties of the glass, and determine the flow of colors within the overall design.

"It's a very grown-up thing to be doing, creating something that could last forever," said Robalino.

The mission of the Public Art Workshop is to support public art projects in the community that bring youth together to learn art skills, to nurture collaboration between diverse groups, and to promote art as a tool for community development. Students learn new social and artistic skills, while making a positive contribution to their community. The program emphasizes hands-on learning tactics, the use of technology, and the development of relationships with other students and professional working artists. The program is co-sponsored by the office of Arts and Cultural Affairs, City of Seattle. Additional funding for the Public Art Workshop comes from the Hasbro Charitable Trust. For more info, contact the public Art Workshop at 206-760-4289 or

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