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Students' Vivid Mural Brings to Life Alan Page's Message

Alan Page, Hall of Fame defensive tackle and retired Minnesota Supreme Court judge, recently visited the school named in his honor for the unveiling of a unique mural project.

MINNEAPOLIS –The words, he was familiar with.

The messages, however, came to life in a whole new way at Justice Page Middle School.

Alan Page, Hall of Fame defensive tackle and retired Minnesota Supreme Court judge, recently visited the school named in his honor for the unveiling of a unique mural project.

Over the course of the 2017-18 school year, seventh- and eighth-grade students who elected to take the Mural Arts & Identity class poured themselves into 17 individual paintings that reflect Page's values and social justice efforts over the years.

The paintings, which spell out J-U-S-T-I-C-E P-A-G-E S-C-H-O-O-L, each depict a meaningful Page quote that was chosen by the students to represent through art.

"It's fun to see," Page said as he took in the collective mural of paintings. "There are 17 panels, 17 quotes, 17 different visions – all capturing not only the words that I said but the spirit in which I said them. It's pretty special."

Added Page: "We started down at this end with the 'J' and I thought, 'Wow.' We went to the 'U' and it was 'Wow.' Seventeen panels later, and it's still 'Wow.' Each one is unique."

Art teacher Elissa Cedarleaf Dahl explained the creative process to Vikings.com.

In the fall, Page came to the first semester course and was interviewed by the students, who had prepared specific questions and took notes on his responses. The class also referenced a pool of quotes from various past speeches or presentations. The students then voted on the 17 excerpts to include in the paintings.

Cedarleaf Dahl then tasked the middle schoolers with creating imagery to represent the words, and the art began to take shape on sheets of a lightweight parachute cloth.

"Then the second semester started, and those kids got to decide what things from the first-semester designs they would keep and what things they would add," Cedarleaf Dahl said. "I was kind of afraid they would all-out cover up some of the aspects, but it was really interesting to see the level of respect they had for what their classmates had chosen."

After the second-semester students finished the art pieces, they welcomed Page and his wife, Diane, to the school for a critiquing session in which they asked the Pages to offer feedback on and ultimately approve the creations.

"We've been here a couple times watching them actually concept it, and then we came back and saw the mural classes," Diane Page said. "When we came and saw them all hung, it was just breathtaking.

"They all stood and presented their mural to us, and then they asked us what we liked about it, what we didn't like about it. … They wanted our final approval. They were so nervous," she added with a smile. "Of course we approved all of them, and it's pretty amazing to see them up now."

Cedarleaf Dahl emphasized the ownership and independence she allowed the students to take in designing and executing the panels, and she said the final product was incredibly meaningful.

The teacher also was struck by the rapport that students have built with Page in the year-plus since renaming the school after him.

"When he visited our class, they just centered themselves – it was like a hush came over the room," Cedarleaf Dahl said. "The kids were so excited to learn from him, and it was an environment that I'll always remember – how much the kids were reverent, excited, proud of what they did but nervous to present it to him.

"They have such a warm presence," Cedarleaf Dahl continued. "It's been an honor to work with the Pages on this project, to have worked on the renaming as well, and now to see his name embodied in his words and the kids' designs."

Several of the young artists were on-hand during the evening unveiling of the mural, including a trio of seventh-grade young ladies who shared pieces of their experience.

Eliana Sander said she most appreciated the teamwork aspect of the project.

"It taught me a lot about working together with people, and it's just really cool to now see the final product," Sander said. "I'm really happy about how it turned out."

Marcie Slade, who worked on the "G" panel during the second semester, added, "We got to choose our quotes, and I really liked ours – 'Treat people fairly' – because it's really simple, but it has a lot of meaning."

When asked about working with the Pages throughout the process, Kate Burke smiled.

"I really hope he likes it," Kate said. "It was really fun getting to meet him, ask him questions, and him giving us advice about our mural. That was probably one of the highlights for me – him working on the mural with us."

Page has accomplished much in his life. But ask him about his triumphs on the football field, and Page will likely tell you they take a back seat to his passion for social justice, education and youth.

Leaving behind a legacy through the Justice Page Middle School also tops his list.

As Page observed the artwork and pointed out various features that he was especially drawn to, one thing was especially clear:

This was about so much more than art.

Page posed a hypothetical question: "It gives you hope, doesn't it?"

Seated at a round cafeteria table, the Hall of Famer offered a sweeping gesture around the room and smiled.

"When people come together, it shows what can happen," Page said. "It says, 'We can come together if we allow ourselves. If we have common goals, we can work together in ways that are productive.'

"The bad things that happen don't have to happen. It's just a matter of, really, bringing people together," Page added. "It's amazing what you can accomplish when you have expectations. People will generally rise to them. At the same time, with high expectations, they'll rise to them; with low expectations, they'll sink to them. How do we, on a larger scale, create those high expectations and then support people in meeting them?" 

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