ELKHART — Sofia Sanchez took a step back Friday morning and weighed her next move carefully: Pink or coral?

The Elkhart Central High School senior is one of 14 students helping transform the side of 523 Tap and Grill from a bare brick wall into a colorful, musical mural since July 9. Working from the ground, atop scaffolding and high above in a scissor lift, they're painting a design of hers on the south wall with a series of figures playing jazz instruments and dancing.

Each figure is outlined in a splash of color that's either splattered on the bricks, like spray paint around a stencil, or dripping down from the top.

"I figured Elkhart sort of comes from jazz and people express themselves through the music," said Sanchez, a past Jazz Fest performer. "I wanted something more whimsical, that has a fun feel to it, because of how big the space is. This way when people come through downtown, they can see what Elkhart is all about."

Her challenge at that moment was picking a color for a figure about halfway down the face of the building, a breakdancer caught in mid-handstand, that was still just outlined in white primer. She had to decide what would best complement the large yellow drips to the left and the saxophone player outlined in red to the right.

Elizabeth Sokolowski, the Elkhart Central Art Department chair who teaches the summer school, recommended she keep it simple and duplicate the purple from a little farther down the wall.

Sanchez agreed, before moving on to the next problem: The orange wasn't popping as much as she wanted. Sokolowski suggested she thicken the outline like a few of the other figures, before she tried something like mixing paint to lighten the color.

Sokolowski noted it's a three-week project, and some of the students have been putting in overtime to get it done. She has murals planned for the VFW and Roosevelt Elementary School next, part of a two-year waiting list.

"We have a quick turnaround on this. For a mural this big, the design has to be pretty simple," she said. "If it were smaller, we could get in more detail."

Collaboration

Sokolowski's program has been responsible for more than 50 murals throughout the city in the past 12 years. Locations include the Greater Elkhart Chamber of Commerce building, Bristol Elementary School, the McNaughton Park bandshell and Ideal Beach.

The program is a collaboration between the school and the city, with the school giving art credit and hiring her to teach it, and the city preparing the building and providing paint and other supplies. It's open to students throughout Elkhart, including Central, Memorial, School Without Walls participants and homeschoolers.

"We'll accept any teenager who wants to come help," Sokolowski said.

Students start each mural by studying the space and sketching design proposals. The mayor and the property owner pick what they like best, sometimes mixing different ideas.

She said they've been painting every morning and projecting the image on the Grill building at night. They had three more figures to add to the wall as of Friday.

Their deadline for the mural is July 26. Sokolowski said the city will treat the students to a picnic at Ideal Beach when they're finished.

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