For the last few weeks, something wonderful has been brewing over at the Charleston County School of the Arts. Ten students, joined by locally renowned artist David Boatwright, have been hard at work, creating beautiful murals out of beans and rice. It’s work that teacher Ben Moore describes as a project dedicated to “giving back.”

The Charleston Wine + Food Festival, in collaboration with Louie’s Kids and Slow Food Charleston, coordinated the effort as part of this year’s festival. Engaging the students in a “real world” project has become not only a great way to teach art, but also a potential fundraising windfall for Louie’s Kids and Slow Food, the charitable beneficiaries of this year’s festival. Both charities work locally to positively impact our relationship with of food. Slow Food works to raise awareness about indigenous food practices, while Louie’s Kids teaches kids the merits of healthy diet and exercise.

Ten 11th graders, some of Moore’s finest artists, worked with a vision developed by the charities and Boatwright. Visits with Mike Lata of FIG, local shrimper Wayne Magwood, Lowcountry farmer Celeste Albers, and Auja Ravenel, a successful participant in the Louie’ Kids program, connected the students with an understanding of the local food economy. From this experience, the seeds of the mosaics were sown. Fittingly, all four of them have been produced from small pieces of colorful rice and dried beans. Each mural symbolizes a different aspect of the cycle of food production and consumption in the Lowcountry.

The 4-by-5 foot murals will be centerpieces of the Wine + Food Festival display and auctioned off, with proceeds from the sale going toward the charities. An added benefit will be the lessons learned by the students as they work to benefit their community. Moore has already perceived a difference in the creative process at work.

“Typically, we do projects and art competitions, and when they finish, our students have a piece of work to keep,” Moore says. “With this project, the students will create a different piece of art in a different way, and, most of all, they really like the idea of giving back.”

Moore adds that the students have surpassed his vision and their own. His initial concerns about working in a medium of dried food, and the challenges it presented, have been assuaged with the realization that the project is developing beyond everyone’s expectations. The pieces are stunning, colorful swirls of beans and rice that illustrate the considerable skills being developed at Charleston County’s art magnet high school.

“The kids are seeing a nicer piece of artwork emerge, and they realize that the quality of the artwork is going to sell for more, and therefore they are going to be able to give back even more.” For Moore and the students, this benefit surpasses even the opportunity to work closely with Boatwright, an artist well known for creating familiar murals across Charleston.

Boatwright and Moore both welcome the chance to pursue similar efforts with the Wine + Food Festival in the future, perhaps in other food mediums, recognizing the impact that their collaboration is having on the festival and the students.

“We feel lucky to be a part of this,” Moore says. “We might do it again, making it different, perhaps with different materials and methods.”

Boatwright sums it all up: “It was just the right thing to do.”

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