Dogwood Elementary School in Knox County focuses on creating a positive learning environment for students. The art on the walls is not typical, but it is impactful.
KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — Dogwood Elementary School may look like an ordinary school from the outside, but the moment you step inside, you’re greeted with creativity in every crevice.
Almost every hallway is lined with “graffiti,” as director Lana Shelton-Lowe describes it.
“We are the school like no other,” Shelton-Lowe said. “So we wanted something that made our school look unique.”
Murals, paintings and artwork of all shapes, sizes and themes live on the walls at South Knoxville Elementary School. It’s almost like walking through a museum where you can see something new everywhere you turn.
It all started in 2017 when the school hired muralist Steve Hall to do the work. Shelton-Lowe was very clear that she wanted all the art to be done with spray paint.
“It was actually a friend of a friend who reached out to me,” Hall said. “It was quite an adventure.”
In 2019, he enlisted the help of artist Aaron Carroll. The two mainly draw in the corridors during school breaks, for example in the summer. Spray painting the hallways at school is not something he ever expected to do in his art career.
“It was a little overwhelming at first, but we’re used to it now,” Carroll said. “I never thought I would make a living doing this. That’s for sure.”
The murals consist of everything from underwater and beach scenes to comic book characters, inspirational phrases, iconic public figures and bright colors.
“It feels really good,” Carroll said. “Every time I interacted with the kids, they were just excited about it. It feels very good and satisfying.”
All involved in the project hope that the art inspires creativity outside the classroom.
“Seeing art as a child inspired me to start creating my own art,” Carroll said. “I hope I’m inspiring a future generation of artists.”
The positive and unique school experience doesn’t stop there either. The cafe has a disco ball and speakers and fun is encouraged.
Shelton-Lowe has already noticed a difference in student behavior.
“Our office referrals are down significantly and kids want to come to school,” Shelton-Lowe said. “We want them to come here and we want them to excel academically, but we also want them to enjoy their time here.”
Dogwood Elementary is a public school, which means the neighborhood helps with teaching, field trips and school support. The professional artist couple are now part of this family.
“Aaron and Steve have really become more than just artists, they’ve become supporters of our school and they’ve become our friends, so we’ve really enjoyed having them as part of our family,” Shelton-Lowe said.
Students will be greeted with several new completed murals in the third grade hallway once they return from summer break. The school teased the artwork on social media, but kids won’t see the full photos until they return to class for the year.
“Probably the best part of it all is seeing their face when they see it, because they light up,” Shelton-Lowe said.
All told, the artists have used hundreds of cans of spray paint and don’t plan on stopping anytime soon.
“We’ll keep coming as long as there’s room,” Carroll said. “Then we’ll cover it all over again and do it again. It’s an infinite canvas, which is pretty cool.”
Artists take input from teachers and students about what they want to see in the next mural, and the art is always evolving.
School starts in Knox County on August 8.