For members of the Holy Rosary Church on Third Street NW, 2013 is a year of celebration.
On Dec. 8, 1913, the Roman Catholic church celebrated its first Mass in a small house on H Street NW. A century later, the church is celebrating with various programs, educational courses and a gala dinner in December at the National Building Museum.
The most lasting piece of the centennial, though, came not from church members but from local artists and teens, who painted a mural on the wall of the church’s rectory.
Church volunteer Joanne Brignolo, 67, said the mural, which is about 22 feet by 28 feet, was inspired by a love of art and the belief that a painting would leave a more lasting impact at the Italian church than a sign or poster.
“Art is in the soul of every Italian,” Brignolo said. “We saw this mural as a gift to our parishioners, our friends, our neighbors in an effort to share Holy Rosary’s centennial celebration with the community.”
A mural, she said, also offered an opportunity for the community to get involved.
Brignolo’s search for the right artists led her to City Arts, a D.C.-based community art program that pairs student apprentices with artists. Since 1996, high school students, such as 10th-grader Joshua Mitchell of Takoma Park, have been selected for the program to collaborate on mural projects in Adams Morgan, DuPont Circle and other areas.
Under the tutelage of artist and MacFarland Middle School teacher Charles Jean-Pierre, Mitchell and several other City Arts students worked with Brignolo on the initial sketches and plans for the mural, then on two weeks of daily work at the rectory to paint and complete it.
“We’d get up here, then we’d plan what to do,” said D.C. resident James Flowers, a friend and artistic partner with Jean-Pierre who helped with the mural. “I’d focus on this, he’d start on that, and the kids would have their assignments. We’d help each other and try to help the kids by mentoring them and giving the pointers.”
Jean-Pierre, Flowers and the students played music while they worked, painting and perfecting aspects of the mural: depictions of District landmarks, cherry blossom trees, and both the church’s current pastor, Lydio Tomasi, and its founder, Nicola DeCarlo.
“We tried to do our best to get all the aspects of what the mural is supposed to represent,” Mitchell said. “It kind of blends nicely.”
Jean-Pierre, 29, who joined City Arts last year, said the mural helped the students learn how to collaborate on a large project and how to work and communicate with a client.
“Even in art school, at the university level, they don’t teach students how to deal with clients,” Jean-Pierre said. “The real-world application is a huge advantage for these kids.”
Over the course of the school year, Jean-Pierre also had the program’s 10 students create artist biographies and résumés, shoot video for a new Tumblr blog and organize an art show.
City Arts, Flowers said, gives students an invaluable opportunity to immerse themselves in art.
“I think kids need opportunities to express themselves outside the classroom,” Flowers said. “It’s like gym. You do basketball, football and track in gym class, but you also have teams that focus on those sports. City Arts brings that more-advanced training that you don’t get in art classrooms. They wouldn’t do a mural in art class.”
Mitchell, a lover of basketball and comics, said he plans to study aerospace design engineering in college — and maybe draw his own comic book one day.
“Seeing this mural, it makes me feel like I’ve accomplished something, something that should be here for a while,” he said. “People will come look at it and, hopefully, be amazed.”