Mending Walls in K-12: We Need to Talk, We Need to Make

What happens when artists from different backgrounds come together to discuss societal issues and create joint public artworks addressing them?

Two artists work on painting their mural

“In Conversation” is located at 4 W Broad St. in Richmond, VA 23220. Photo by Katrina Taggart-Hecksher for Mending Walls RVA

Mending Walls RVA is an ongoing public art project in Richmond, Virginia started by Hamilton Glass. It connects artists from different cultures to speak openly about racism and then jointly paint a mural designed to bring people together and heal.

Since its inception in the spring of 2020, more than 30 artists have come together to connect, heal, and create. In 2022, Mending Walls: The Documentary won an Emmy in the Capital/Chesapeake Region.

Mending Walls in K-12

In 2021, Partners in the Arts partnered with VPM and Mending Walls to create a free online workshop based on the project for educators. It integrates artists in the Richmond community, relevant and timely cultural issues, and visual art for a truly dynamic learning experience for students.

In the workshop, three pairs of artists discuss their conversations and the mural collaborations that came out of them. Excerpts from Mending Walls: The Documentary are included, along with activities and a participant guide.

The artist look at their finished mural

“Liberty Leads Her People” is located at 2928 North Ave in Richmond, VA. Photo by Brenda Soque for Mending Walls RVA

We Need To Talk: Teaching Empathy

The Mending Walls project demonstrates several educational best practices:

  • the importance of developing skills in asking questions and listening
  • how teachers can optimal learning environments based on equity, trust, and candor
  • ways to integrate classroom discourse that is authentic and relevant to students’ experiences

Educators can also refer to the real world applications of close reading that inspired the content of the mural by Nico Cathcart and Auz Miles. Themes from songs, speeches, and poetry run through their finished wall. Many of the student activities create opportunities for students to be challenged and learn something new to build trust and empathy.

We Need to Make: Creative Collaboration  

After building a basis of understanding in the classroom, students can begin to collaborate productively. The second part of Mending Walls in K-12 describes how artists came together to discuss, design, and execute. These are processes that students need to engage in daily in the classroom.

The artists’ choices show students what collaboration can look like in a real-world project. Hearing firsthand how professionals have to compromise, refine, and respond is powerful for students as they go through the messy work of learning and meaning-making themselves.

Teachers can draw connections to risk-taking for students from artists Alfonso Pérez Acosta and Noah Scalin as they talk about tackling an unfamiliar task. Their design process mirrors many process in various subjects, such as scientific investigation, inquiry-based learning, and project-based learning.

An artist on a lift works on a mural in progress

“Together We Rise” is located at 300 E Broad St. in Richmond, VA. Photo by Katrina Taggart-Hecksher

The Conversation Continues

The collaborative efforts put into the Mending Walls give rise to meaningful conversations, challenges, empathy, and greater understanding. Through the K-12 workshop, educators can learn to engage and amplify student voice and incorporate community and culture into the classroom. Access the workshop in StoryMap format here or through VPM PBS Learning Media.

Mending Walls RVA continues to create murals in key neighborhoods of the city of Richmond. There are currently volunteer opportunities for the public on a new mural, “Transcending Walls,” being created in Richmond Hill. To keep up with Mending Walls RVA’s work, check them out on Facebook and Instagram.

Contact Partners in the Arts to learn more about our integrated learning educator and artist training programs. We come into classrooms, schools, cultural organizations, and community spaces to connect community and culture to learning through arts and technology.


Alison Travis is the Program Coordinator for Partners in the Arts at the University of Richmond. She has spent ten years working in and with public schools to support integrated, innovative teaching and improve outcomes for all students.

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