Kids Make Lasting Impression on Balboa Park

What elevates a park from a space to play into a beloved neighborhood landmark? The Trust for Public Land knows it’s more than just finding a likely location and installing a swing or two. For a park to become the beating heart of a community, it needs creativity, vision, and—above all—as much local support, feedback, and participation as possible.

At Balboa Park, in San Francisco’s family-focused Excelsior neighborhood, a talented group of neighborhood high school art students recently put the finishing touches on a work of art that will become a showpiece of the park’s redesign. Their bright and shiny tile mosaic adorns six stairs of the re-imagined playground area, complementing the new skate park, playground, playing fields, tennis courts, pathways, and landscaping with handmade local flavor.

A Learning Experience

The students’ colorful contribution to Balboa Park almost feels meant to be. When The Trust for Public Land approached their teacher, Dolores Gray, about participating in the project, she was thrilled. Not only did Lick-Wilmerding High School have a student glass studio, but Gray was looking for a worthy location for her charges to flex their budding mural work skills. Balboa Park, just down the street from the school, was perfect: the kids could contribute to a neighborhood resource.

The project fit so well with the school’s community-focused mission, Gray made it the focus of the semester. Prior to installing their masterpiece, the students spent months conceptualizing, designing, drawing, presenting, and redesigning their artwork. “The class had a real-world design experience,” says Philip Vitale, of The Trust for Public Land’s Parks for People program. “They presented their ideas, we voted on them, gave them feedback, and they collaborated on the redesign—just like professionals.”

Lick students collaborated with local mosaic tile artist Rachel Rodi, who has designed numerous mosaics throughout the Bay Area. Commissioned by The Trust for Public Land, Rodi helped guide students through the design process and oversaw the installation process. “The best part of this project was watching the kids’ faces light up with the sense of accomplishment they got from seeing it through, start to finish,” says Rodi.

A Community Focus

Offering park-goers an artistic interpretation of the park and city from the ground to the sky, the finished mural “illustrates the community’s hopes for the park and includes the elements that make the city and neighborhood unique,” says Lick student Leigh Engle. Interspersed throughout the mural are the words “family,” “community,” and “play” in English, Spanish, Mandarin & Tagalog.

The mosaic project “helped the kids to see the connection between themselves, the school, the neighborhood, the city, and the bigger picture that exists outside their own personal universes,” says Ms. Gray.

“What’s really cool is that it will always be here,” says Lick student Leigh Engle. “We can visit years from now and say we helped build this park.”

Instilling a sense of park ownership in kids and the community is important to us at The Trust for Public Land. We include neighbors and children in the design and beautification process through our Parks for People program. Learn more about Parks for People-California.