Merced Mall tote project teaches students art and conservation

Mrs. Bianchi's first-grade class at Farmdale Elementary School created a piece of art in the form of a tutu.

Picasso-style self-portraits from McSwain students Piper, Erin, Thomas, Xavier and others hang next to the works of artists from the Arbor Gallery.

Mrs. Walsh’s kindergarten class at Allan Peterson Elementary School designed their piece in the style of Jackson Pollock.

The artworks are canvas bags on display in the courtyard at Merced Mall.

They were decorated as part of the mall’s ArTote project, a program aimed at teaching conservation and art in the classroom.

Participating schools will also make money — the proceeds of silent auction sales of the student-created totes.Ethan Miranda, 7, was at the mall Monday bobbing his head around the exhibition’s rope barrier to find the bag he created with his second-grade class at Peterson.

“I had fun,” he said as he spotted his class’ bag. “I drew the tetherball.”

The bag was decorated in part by each of the students and focused on fun activities during recess.

Ethan’s father, Frank, took out his camera phone to send a picture to the boy’s mother. “You could come and bid on it!” Ethan said as he hopped up and down to get a better view.

The mall will host one silent auction benefiting six schools each night from 6:30 to 7:30 p.m. Oct. 14 to 18.

Six schools will be featured each night and will receive the cash to promote programs on their campuses.“It would be fantastic if we could raise a couple thousand dollars for them,” said William Taylor, programs coordinator for the mall.

In total, local K-8 schools turned in 600 bags.

Taylor started hanging the bags at 7 a.m. Monday and was “up to my chin” in finished products. He said he got distracted by looking at the creations as he worked. “This was kind of my way of instigating arts into class time,” Taylor said. “I am a true believer that arts are very, very important to student development.”

In a separate part of the event, 100 community leaders, artists and organizations involved in youth education, character development and violence prevention also created bags to be bid on at a gala auction on Oct. 24. Proceeds from the auction will go to Merced ComVIP — the Community Violence and Intervention and Prevention Task Force.

Plainsburg Elementary School also took part in the program, with each grade working collaboratively to adorn two bags.

Angel Baxter, the president of the Parent Club at the school, helped organize the event on a volunteer basis. Baxter, a mother of a second-grader and fourth-grader at the school, said she wanted to join the program to give the students extra time on art programs.

Her second-grader decided on a springtime theme with classmates. The bags feature floating butterflies, colorful flowers and smiling, shiny suns.

Baxter helped the K-3 classes decorate their bags with paint, glitter and markers. “I just let them do their own artistic thing,” Baxter said. “They had a good time.”

Conservation and environmental stewardship were also a central part of the program, Taylor said.

Mrs. Lanum’s class at Plainsburg took that message to heart. “Plainsburg loves Earth,” their creation read.

After the bags were finished, Baxter sent invitations for the auction to the school’s parents. “I think that kids will enjoy seeing their art out there on display for everyone to see, and not just their parents,” Baxter said. It’s in the bag.

Reporter Danielle Gaines can be reached at (209) 385-2407 or