Santa Rosa students, artists team up to create new mural at Amarosa Academy

Amarosa Academy’s courtyard space, once surrounded by drab gray walls, is now encompassed by a massive 480 foot mural, featuring flowers, bees and more.|

Students at Amarosa Academy were laughing and chatting with one another on a recent chilly Monday morning as they walked through a newly transformed courtyard on their Santa Rosa campus.

The space, once surrounded by drab gray walls, is now encompassed by a massive 480-square-foot mural, featuring flowers, bees, geometric shapes and more.

Over 100 people helped create the mural, including students at Amarosa, a public alternative education site for middle and high schoolers.

Local artists, teachers, members of the nonprofit ArtStart, plus community volunteers rounded out the project team.

“It was never just a mural for me — it is so much more than that. It was an act of co-creation and place-making and standing beside these young people showing our support,” said Erika Lutz, one of three artists who helped spearhead the project. The trio also included local environmental muralist Alina Nuebel and youth arts educator Kaya Rose.

It took a year of hard work, collaboration and learning, said Lutz, 41, of Forestville.

It is the most significant product of a broader new arts education collaborative called See You on the Other Side, launched at Amarosa and meant to give students an opportunity to have their voices heard and to be part of a healing experience.

“We wanted to bring students back to full-time learning in a way that not only addressed learning loss, but more importantly addressed their social emotional needs, and what better way to do that than through the arts,” said Georgia Ioakimedes, director of Alternative Education-Student Support Services at the Sonoma County Office of Education, which oversees Amarosa.

Its Dutton Avenue campus was brand-new when it opened in 2011.

Many of its 12- to 18-year-old students come from marginalized backgrounds, Ioakimedes said, and most have been expelled from other Sonoma County schools or haven’t found success in the traditional school settings.

The mural gave them a chance to bond with each other while discussing their needs, thoughts and hopes, and learning the fundamentals of painting at the same time, Lutz said.

The process began with three months of workshopping with students, where they created comic books, journal entries, sketches and more for mural inspiration. That was followed by three months of designing the mural based on students’ submissions. Then came six months of painting.

Students had a hand in every part of the process. Once they finished, the walls were sealed and varnished by teachers.

Lutz saw symbolism behind the teamwork: the younger generation creating something new, while their elders worked to safeguard it.

“There’s a piece of all the students that were here, there’s a piece of their story on the walls,” Ioakimedes said.

“I felt really proud to be apart of something unique,” said Elaine Olivera, 16, a junior at Amarosa. “And I felt very comfortable working with the people who helped with the project since we did a lot of talking and painting together.”

Jennifer Tatum at ArtStart, the Sonoma County educational arts nonprofit, helped bring the project to fruition by connecting Ioakimedes with the lead trio of artists, Lutz, Nuebel and Rose. A $1.2 million grant from the state meant to help students transition back to full-time in-person learning supported the endeavor.

The finished mural was unveiled Nov. 15 and Lutz promised the students a big party. The school hired a favorite taco truck to cater the event, while students donned tie-dyed and screen-printed shirts, a live musician performed, and a giant gallery went up featuring all of the students’ design work during the process.

“They could see their own work respected and honored as a real artist,” Lutz said. “It helped them see they could be a creator in the world.”

A film of the mural project, shot by San Francisco-based filmmaker Naum Milyavskiy, was screened at the unveiling.

“I felt damn lucky to be trusted with students who had been through a lot and they trusted us enough to let us in. I also felt lucky to have the gift of time to work on something with a lot of love and intention. And I felt really proud that so many other people showed up for the cause,” Lutz said.

Amarosa’s current enrollment is 45 students, and while traditional art classes are not offered at the school, there are efforts to integrate arts education into the curriculum, Ioakimedes said.

Lutz, who serves as director of See You on the Other Side and whose background is in creating educational games for children, said she hopes to include other campuses across Sonoma County in the arts initiative.

To explore the project’s website, including photos, videos, and written entries about the mural, visit

Kylie Lawrence can be reached at

Editor’s note: The story has been updated to correct the spelling of Georgia Ioakimedes.

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