Student-made "Birds without Paradise" soar above Liberty Station and across U.S.-Mexico border

Posted: Thursday, January 17th 2019


Student-made "birds" hanging above Liberty Station
Student-made "birds" hanging above Liberty Station

Students benefit from education in the arts, and special art projects can connect them to the larger community and to other cultures. While discussion of the U.S.-Mexico border is dominating the national dialogue, students from seven San Diego Unified School District schools have metaphorically spanned that border with their art in a unique binational art project.

Last weekend, dozens of local schoolchildren and their families gathered just before sunset in Liberty Station’s fountain courtyard to see the installation of “the birds.”

Nearly 350 handmade birds were on display – artwork created by San Diego middle school students –  as part of Liberty Station’s newest art installation. Crafted of natural materials including corn husks and painted in vibrant colors, the birds were a sight to see, each with a wingspan of nearly three feet. As each unique piece was hoisted and hung above the courtyard, it joined over 400 of its kin that were already in place over Calle Segunda in Tijuana - just 20 miles away as the crow flies, but symbolically a world away.

The display, titled Birds without Paradise, is a collaboration between the San Diego Unified School District, the NTC Foundation, the San Diego-Tijuana Smart Border Coalition, and Vesta, a Mexico-based real estate developer. The project is being presented as a binational program to promote cultural and economic cooperation in the CaliBaja Mega-Region.

Led by the artist Manual Molina, this cross-border art project involved more than 800 children from San Diego and Baja schools. Students from Correia, CPMA, Marshall, Muirlands, Montgomery, SCPA and Wilson middle schools all took part in creating the birds now hanging in the courtyard. The initiative was originally created by Molina to raise awareness about the importance of stopping bird trafficking. The project has since been transformed into an exercise in creativity and knowledge exchange.

“My students enjoyed being a part of something bigger, and we enjoyed taking them through the process. This will be an experience that they will remember for years," said Laura McDonald, a teacher at Marshall Middle School. "Every teacher hopes to have a project that integrates the display of art beyond the classroom walls. As art teachers, we encourage our students to think outside the box and help them understand how their work can impact the world around them.”

The birds will hang in the ARTS DISTRICT Liberty Station’s Luce Court for four weeks, ending on February 8, 2019. For Correia teacher Suzanne Long and those involved with the project, its legacy will endure for far longer.

“This project was not only really fun for me and my students, but it offered my students a chance to share their creativity and contribute to an art installation that is bigger than themselves,” Long said. “Having the opportunity to collaborate with Manuel Molina helped make this project relevant and meaningful for all students who participated.”

In addition to the symbolism, the binational cooperative project has been a source of inspiration for the students involved as well.

“Projects like this build community, confidence, and attention to important issues,” said Muirlands Middle School teacher Patricia Cox. “This collaborative work demonstrates that art can be expressive and beautiful, and at the same time be activism and voice — a change agent in one’s heart and in the larger society!”

Parents said they admired their students’ work. “Hers is up there somewhere,” said Ashley M., looking for the bird that her daughter had made at Correia Middle School. “It’s hard to tell now at night, but if you look close each one is totally different and has its own funky design.”

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