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“There used to be graffiti on it and sometimes there were inappropriate words on it,” says Harmony, a fourth grader at Hawthorne Community School about the tunnel under East Washington Avenue at Fair Oaks. The pathway is used by students who need to cross the fast four lane street to get to school. 

But the tunnel ribbon cutting of the new, improved walkway opened up more than a safe route to school. Students who primarily live in the Truax apartments can now safely walk under the busy street through an eye-opening mural of welcoming images every student had a hand in creating. 

Hawthorne Community Resource Coordinator Erika Brown says when the school realized kids were cutting across the busy street with no crosswalk light to regulate traffic, rather than use the tunnel, they set out to find out why. 

Hawthorne Mural“What we found was that it was scary and dirty and needed improvement,” Brown said. East Madison Community Center, the Public Health Nurse and Safe Routes to School started talking about beautifying the tunnel.” 

After the team problem-solved, the project received funding and support from a number of community partners to renew the walkway. They enlisted Dane Arts Mural Arts (DAMA) to lead students and staff and family members in the new, happy space. DAMA worked with the entire school to give everyone an opportunity to leave a healthy mark on the once dingy pathway. 

mural1.jpgDAMA Director and a lead artist on the project, Emida Roller, says the school had all of their “ducks in a row” making the experience seamless and fun. “The kids designed and helped us paint, so they were really proud,” Roller said.

Zulia, a Hawthorne third grader, uses the tunnel several days a week. “I think it’s cool,” Zulia said about seeing her self-portrait as she safely cuts through. “It feels good.”


In the news: Channel 15 New Tunnel Mural Unveiled Hawthorne Elementary School hopes it will encourage more kids to use the tunnel 10/15/19

Video above: Dane Arts Mural Arts (DAMA)

Photos above: Pat Dillon, MMSD Communications