MURALIST KRISTEL LERMAN is working with students from Inside Out Community Arts in Venice on a new mural in Santa Monica. Photos by Jorge M. Vargas, Jr.

After-school programs often offer students the opportunity to paint canvases as a means of self-expression. Few students get the opportunity to paint murals, and even fewer get to take part in an artistic project at one of the Westside’s historic mural sites.

Venice muralist Kristel Lerman will be working with middle and high school students from Inside Out Community Arts, a Venice nonprofit organization, over the next two weeks on a mural that will honor the Chumash Native American tribe as well as the environment.

Inside Out works with at-risk youth throughout Los Angeles and involves them in artistic endeavors such as media workshops and visual and performing arts.

The young artists will be painting the side of the building at the corner of Ocean Park Avenue and Main Street in Santa Monica, site of the former iconic Ocean Park Pier mural, which had been defaced over the years with graffiti and several other images that were not part of the original artwork.

Prior to working on the mural, the teens researched the rich history of Ocean Park, which at the turn of last century was a haven for well-to-do Angelenos who wanted to enjoy “summer” at the beach. Inside Out Executive Director of Education Varina Bleil said the students also met with members of the Chumash Native American tribe, which was prevalent in the area several centuries ago.

“When the kids met a Chumash chief, he encouraged them to use the mural to speak to the world,” she recalled.

Bleil said the mural is part of the non-profit’s summer program and its theme is “Magic with Logic.” Over 20 teens from Santa Monica, Venice and Mar Vista are participating in painting the mural under Lerman’s direction.

“The mural will be a homage to environmental protection,” Lerman said. “We will also have the figure of a Chumash-inspired woman in the center, along with the image of a pelican, the ocean and a seascape.”

The building has been leased for nearly 25 years by skate and surf shop ZJ Boardinghouse. As the owners watched the steady degradation of the mural, an opportunity to transform Ocean Park Pier into something fresh and new came along with Inside Out Arts, said Victor Shaw, the manager of the surf shop.

“Over the years, the mural became dilapidated,” he said. “The program at Inside Out made sense to have a fresh, new start (at the mural site) and it will be great to have something that will reflect community.”

SelectNY, a global branding and advertising agency, decided to fund the artistic endeavor shortly upon opening its Santa Monica office last year.

“They have years of experience working with at-risk kids and their curriculum is outstanding,” responded managing director Angela Pih, when asked why her agency chose to assist Inside Out Arts with the mural. “The six months that these kids receive cannot compensate for all of the art programs that they have lost at their schools, but besides visual and performing arts they are mentored in other important things, like conflict resolution.”

Lerman will be working with the students on shading and lighting techniques as well as actual painting.

On their first day of painting, students at Inside Out Arts talked about participating in the project. The nonprofit has a new policy of not using surnames for minors.

Kaylin, 12, recalled her visit with the Chumash tribe and what she learned about them. “It was really touching how they’re so close to the earth and their ceremonies are really interesting,” she said.

Kaylin said she was surprised when she and her friends were told they would be painting a mural this summer. “We usually do performing arts, so I thought it would be kind of fun and cool to see what would happen,” she said.

Diana, 12, who attends John Adams Middle School in Santa Monica, was thrilled to take her turn on the wall.

“When I heard that we were going to paint a mural I got really excited. I can’t wait because I like painting,” said the seventh-grader. “I like how you can use different colors to create something from your own imagination.”

Pih, who has visited the art site on multiple occasions, said funding the mural venture has other important intrinsic benefits.

“I think any investment in children in terms of enrichment is a sound investment,” she said. “Especially when we have so many great layers of collaboration here, with the Inside Out Community Arts team, ZJ Boardinghouse, Kristel, our mural artist, as well as people within the community.

“When you have a big, iconic community project such as this, you really need to have that sense of ownership from the very beginning,” Pih continued. “For us, it’s a great investment.”

Bleil is thankful for SelectNY’s financial assistance to the mural project.

“They’re the heart and soul for us,” the executive director said. “They wanted to gift the community with something and this mural is a great gift.”

Lerman, who has painted two other murals in Santa Monica, said some of the students might undergo similar feelings that she has as an artist during the time they are painting the mural and after it is completed.

“During the process, there are a whole range of emotions,” the artist explained. “After it’s done, it’s the most incredible feeling that you can have.

“These kids are going to go on a journey from a blank wall to get to a certain goal and see how it comes together, layer by layer.”

Inside Out anticipates that the mural will be completed by Aug. 11. ¤