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Cafeteria walls to display fruits of art students' labor








Chris Burkhardt, CMSD’s executive director of school nutrition, is trying to spice up menus. And he wants to do the same with the look of District cafeterias.

Tired of big, blank walls, Burkhardt recently commissioned paintings that Cleveland School of Arts students made of fruits and vegetables. The first 80 works, enough for 10 of the District’s 100 schools, are ready for display.

“We need some vibrancy,” Burkhardt said. “The cafeteria is something that should be celebrated. We are doing that with art.”

Visual arts teacher Brittainy Quinn guided the students, including a majority who just put the finishing touches on their ninth-grade year.

Some found inspiration for their still-lifes by helping her tend a community garden in Collinwood. It was a grant-funded project that also included painting and cooking classes.

Burkhardt picked up the tab for art supplies. It was less expensive than paying professional artists, and the students were able to develop their skills and gain exposure.

Aniya, a 10th-grader, has been painting for only two years, though she has been sketching with pencil and carving tile for four. Ultimately, she hopes to create characters for anime that deals with politics and other issues not typically associated with the art form.

She is happy to have her work on display, perhaps starting at Charles W. Eliot PreK-8 School, her alma mater. Burkhardt will try to place paintings in the students’ former elementary schools and then later rotate works throughout the District.

“This is a unique experience,” Aniya said. “It’s uplifting.”

Another 10th-grader, Josiah, said he feels “awful proud” to know his painting will go on public display. He hopes it lands at his former school, Franklin D. Roosevelt, and shows a favorite former teacher how far he has progressed.

“I love art,” said Josiah, who aspires to become a clothing designer. “I’m thankful it exists. It makes everything look special.”

Quinn’s visual arts class is part of CSA’s integrated arts program. The program, which started three years ago, exposes students not only to visual arts but also to music, literature and theater.

She plans to make cafeteria paintings an annual back-to-school project. With about 100 schools in the District, there are a lot of walls to cover, so Burkhardt welcomes all the pieces the students can create.

“This is fantastic,” he said. “As long as you keep it up, we’ll take the art.”

Burkhardt joined the District in early 2017, after nine years as director of child nutrition and wellness for the Lakota schools, near Cincinnati. In 2015, Food Service Director magazine named him one of the 10 most influential people in the business.

He has tried to add some zest to District food service, most recently by having executive chef Tim Wright, formerly of Kent State University, give cooking lessons to kitchen crews that are used to warming and serving dishes. He also is experimenting with items like Jamaican meat pies and customizable street tacos.

“We’ve got to realize that it’s not one-size-fits-all,” he said. “Everybody’s palate is different.”

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