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Fremont High Schoolers Painting Murals Across the City.

You walk past grayish roads, broken sidewalks, and tan homes across the street until suddenly an oasis of rainbows paints a path beneath your feet. It's red, it's yellow, it's blue, it's green—triangles, squares, and everything in between. This is not some kind of amusement park, it's Ellsworth Street, a neighborhood tucked in Mission San Jose. In a span of two days, September 9th and 10th of 2022, it transformed from a suburban cliché into a rainbow colored mosaic. And deep into the workings behind this unsuspecting weekend is two American High juniors—Aarthi and Sruthi, the minds behind the puzzle piece mural.

Illustrated by Lily Jiang

By Catherine Qin, Faith Qiao, Daniel Gong


The U.S is known for many things: Disneyland, Hollywood, and yes, McDonalds. However, something that is often overlooked is how terribly designed America’s suburbs and cities are. As some like to put it, “Only in America will you find cities made for cars, not people.” And that’s true; suburbs and cities often have long, straight roads, narrow sidewalks, and feature mainly one color: gray.

Well, let’s change that. That’s what the founders of Better Block, a nationwide nonprofit organization, decided—and they’ve gone about this mission through large community engagement events.

Next to the historic Mission San Jose is an exciting transformation of Ellsworth Street, inviting hundreds of locals to participate in the Better Block event. Parents, children, seniors, and even stuck-up teenagers all came to show their support. The newly painted colorful geometric shapes decorated the streets around the area—people lined up at the food trucks, eagerly waiting for their turn, music blasting through the speakers, luring locals to join the dance. Booths filled the streets, showcasing art and housing other activities. But if you looked closely, you’d see the sea of people funneling in one direction, and if you were more attentive, you’d see the tiny hands memorialized in the paint. This particular booth, the focal point of 300, is hosted by The Athena Project—two eager Juniors at American High School, Sruthi and Aarthi, inviting hundreds of parents and children to their growing art movement.

And it all started in May of this year with the budding passion of two artists and fresh inspiration from taking their very first AP course. With just the right combination of the two, The Athena Project was born, and they were born with a mission: “To share our experiences and promote art within the community and further motivate the youth.”

First on the agenda was diving deep into the international art community. And in a span of 5 months, they’ve interviewed 35 artists from Fremont, CA all the way to Dubai in the UAE. One of the very first interviews was actually our very own Illustration director, Melody Zhang. Since then, they’ve featured artists such as Aneesha Anand recognized by Gal Gadot and @7aneenarts who has a following of over 38.2k on Instagram and has been recognized by celebrities like Dixie D’Amelio and Addison Rae. The chosen artists come from various backgrounds and art skill levels. Some young artists began their art journey, while others such as Haneen from Saudi Arabia were recognized by several famous individuals.

There, the Athena Project was able to create a network of artists around the world, “coming to support every post we do and maintain a good connection.” The interviews helped solidify their network of supporters, grabbing more and more attention throughout the art community. However, this meant that people outside their community were not paying much attention. It was as if god literally descended to point out an alternative. Sruthi said so herself: “We’re trying to show people that art is a fun activity to do.”

The goal was set. And the hunt for finding sponsors and locations began. The tiny team of two sent emails to libraries, hospitals, the city council, and other community organizations landing on duds and later a goldmine—Kristin from the Better Block foundation. After months of back and forth emails with Better Block, they reached a settlement. The date and location were set.

On September 9 and 10th at the intersection of Washington Blvd and Ellsworth Street, the Athena Project will hold their first community event.

The mural was a live painting, attracting more than 100 people to come and join. “There were so many kids and parents that were really interested in what we were doing and intrigued by painting. I think we really caught their interest in painting. People are really attracted to trying new things,” said Sruthi. Through Better Block, the community outside of existing artists was tapped—hundreds of little children had the opportunity to dabble in an art form they might have not had the chance to.

The mural was a large colorful puzzle, with handprints of the people that helped paint around the edges. Each puzzle piece is painted by an individual or a singular family, and the color chosen by the artist. Each handprint hides the name of a different country tying together the roots of The Athena Project. Together, the mural symbolizes unity that colors the once black asphalt surface. And for at least the next few years to come, the community that came to draw will be memorialized in Ellsworth Street—reminding the children who painted of their contribution.

This is just the beginning.

The Athena Project is an art movement. Through this small communal event, it is shown the great potential this organization has and the bright future it holds.

And now, the team of two is now a team of four—two founders from Fremont, a coordinator in Union City, and a publisher in Egypt, and they are working with the Washington Hospital to set up another mural painting event this November. This will be the first time Washington Hospital allows outside organizations to paint their walls, and their work will be immortalized in the lives of all the babies born, patients recovering, and families waiting at the Washington Hospital.

They hope that the mural is “going to make the patients there feel like they belong, by representing their cultures and diversities.” They wish these mural events will create more community engagements, while also beautifying the environment and having people feel a sense of belonging. And they move forward with the hope that their “arts can really speak what words can’t.”

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