The completed mural at Hope-Hill Elementary.
The completed mural at Hope-Hill Elementary.

By Clare S. Richie

Local artists Christy Holmes and Becky Fite have wowed students, teachers and staff at Hope-Hill Elementary School with their Atlanta cityscape hallway mural.

“We want this mural to build students up, because they come from greatness,” Fite said.

With Hope-Hill featured prominently in the center, the mural shows the historic jewels of the Old Fourth Ward (O4W) neighborhood – Martin Luther King Jr.’s birth home, Historic Ebenezer Baptist Church, and Old Wheat Street row houses purposefully placed at the student’s eye-level. From the foundation of their school and community, the Atlanta skyline rises in the background.

A traditional elementary school in the Atlanta Public School system, Hope-Hill enrolls 430 predominantly African American students, nearly all of whom qualify for free and reduced lunch. Its neighborhood includes homes snatched up for proximity to the Atlanta BeltLine and Ponce City Market as well as Bedford Pine apartments – the largest section 8 housing project in Atlanta.

Mural artists Christy Holmes and Becky Fite.

For the past three years, Principal Maureen Wheeler has been working to create a school climate that is welcoming, inviting and academically stimulating. Last year, Hope-Hill was the most improved school within APS and this year experienced the largest enrollment surge, growing by 130 students. Upon completing 5th grade, Hope-Hill students attend Inman Middle School and then Grady High School.

“Most of these students don’t have the same advantages as their future classmates,” Angela Lewis, Hope-Hill Parent Liaison explained. In addition to students’ parents and caregivers, she reaches out to the Grady High School cluster community for volunteers and support.

When Hope-Hill asked for artists to create a mural – Fite and Holmes answered the call.

The friends and co-founders of bee good design are known for their collages assembled from old letters, snapshots, and ephemera that speak to life today with a nurturing touch. You may have seen their pieces at local festivals and coffee shops.

Volunteers work on the mural.

Last fall, Fite and Holmes had a “serendipitous” meeting with Lewis, whose vision of an Atlanta cityscape was reminiscent of their collages. By winter, a sharpie outline drawing of the buildings graced the cinderblock wall. Painting began in January and continued through the spring. Now complete, the cityscape mural is both grounded in history and whimsical.

“Students are so excited about the mural,” Principal Wheeler said.

“I like your painting. You’re doing a good job,” students told Fite and Holmes as they passed by the work in progress.

“They were so enthusiastic and affirming. I didn’t want to leave,“ Holmes said. She was also touched by how protective and appreciative the teachers were of the mural and volunteerism. Perhaps they too saw that the mural was more than decorative.

“This could be a fantastic teaching tool. Students could research the historic buildings and use it as a backdrop for their presentation,” Fite offered.

The artist duo plans to return next year to paint two more murals, the Hope-Hill eagle mascot soaring over students reading under a tree and the school logo. After such a heartwarming experience they are also open to donating their time and talent to another Title 1 school.

Collin Kelley

Collin Kelley has been the editor of Atlanta Intown for two decades and has been a journalist and freelance writer for 35 years. He’s also an award-winning poet and novelist.