Mural transforms Pinckney School tunnel

Pinckney Elementary students Edith Patterson, 7, and Annabelle Hurst, 9, walk with Patterson's dog Rosie, through the tunnel beneath Sixth Street on their way home from school Tuesday. New mural panels line both walls the length of the tunnel thanks to artists from Van Go Inc. with help from the Pinckney PTO, the city of Lawrence, Lawrence Schools Foundation, and the Old West Lawrence and Pinckney Neighborhood associations. The panel at right includes references to, from left, The Little Red School House, Hugh Cameron aka the

At the Pinckney School tunnel, dark has turned into light, filthy into clean, scary into inviting. Thanks to a collaboration between the Pinckney Parent-Teacher Organization and several other local entities, the underpass has been renewed — with art. A bright new 90-foot-long mural will be unveiled at a 5 p.m. ceremony Friday at the tunnel’s north entrance.

“It has totally transformed that dark, dreary space into a delightful, exciting passageway,” said Lynne Green, executive director of Van Go Inc., the local arts-based social service agency that supplied the artists for the mural through its job-training program for at-risk youth. “That was the impetus for the entire project: to recreate a dreary, dismal experience going to school every morning into a joyful, wonderful time for young children.”

Constructed in the 1950s, the tunnel acts as a safe passageway beneath Sixth Street to the front of the elementary school, connecting the Pinckney and Old West Lawrence neighborhoods.

Local citizens have long wanted to revamp the tunnel, which had fallen into disrepair over the years — it was dark, dirty and defaced by vandals. In 2011, the Pinckney PTO, after learning that public art deters graffiti, determined that a mural would be the best solution.

“We really decided it was time to reclaim the space,” said project leader and PTO member Jenny Skillman.

The PTO worked with the city of Lawrence, which agreed to clean, maintain and install new lighting in the tunnel. The group commissioned Van Go to design and paint the mural, at a cost of $10,000; the fundraising effort ran the gamut from lemonade stands to a blue-grass concert. Under the supervision of art director Cathy Ledeker, 22 apprentice artists between the ages of 14 and 21 spent eight weeks this spring completing the project.

Bright-colored mural panels now line both walls the length of the Pinckney Elementary School tunnel beneath Sixth Street.

The mural, which consists of several 5-by-9-foot metal panels interspersed with letters of the alphabet featuring a corresponding animal, includes several historical references, such as the Pinckney Panther drinking coffee with school namesake and Revolutionary War hero Charles Cotesworth Pinckney; Hugh “The Kansas Hermit” Cameron; and abolitionist John Brown.

Skillman said the mural artists have brought “the brightness of outside” inside the tunnel.

“Kids and anyone who walks through are going to be able to go through it hundreds of time and see something new every time they look at the mural,” she added.

Waiting for her daughter to finish a speech-therapy appointment on Wednesday, Logan Barriger, of Lawrence, admired the mural with her 2-year-old son, Everett. While she thought the artists did a great job, she was hoping someone would keep the place clean.

“We’ve seen stuff down here you wouldn’t want your kids to see,” she said.

“Tunnel Vision” was sponsored by the Pinckney PTO, Lawrence Schools Foundation, city of Lawrence, and Old West Lawrence and Pinckney Neighborhood associations, as well as several individual donors.