Allowing Data Murals to Have Local Flavor

As we prepared for the mural project in Brazil we planned agendas, reviewed our processes and wondered what we would find. We worried about the texture of the wall we’d be painting, worried that the paint would be oil-based instead of water-based and wondered who would participate in the project. Then I had the luck to talk to Tova Speter, my friend and colleague who has painted community murals around the world. She gave me a practical and well-tested list of things to bring, just in case:

  • A tape measure in inches and feet (just to save my brain from unnecessary conversion)
  • A paint can opener
  • Containers for mixing paint (ideally with lids to store paint overnight)
  • Small brushes for detail work

And right she was! That tape measure saved significant time, and the containers were useful for everything. The brushes would have been impossible to find in time. As far as the mural materials, we ran into a few other unexpected snags. The paint came in an 18L container, and no one except the school’s maintenance staff knew how to open it!

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The paint was actually a concentrate, and we had to dilute it with water. In the past we’ve started with each of the primary colors and white, and mixed the colors that we needed. In Brazil we started with white, and added drops of color from small bottles of the kind of color concentrate that paint stores in the US add to the containers for you.

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It wasn’t only the mural materials that were different there. We had decided early on that we wanted to use local materials for the story finding and mural design activities. If our purpose was to teach people the activities so that they could use them in the future, we didn’t want them to feel like they needed special internationally sourced supplies. So we spent our first day looking through toy stores, convenience stores, outdoor markets, and a home repair store to find things for participants to build with and draw with. No pipe cleaners. No pom poms. No LEGOs.

At the market we found some nice wooden toys with painted blocks and dowels and a handful of marbles. At the home repair store we found tile spacers that make good building doo-dads, and at the convenience store we found post-it notes, modeling clay, rubber bands and markers. The process was time consuming, but we were pleased to have materials that were familiar and easy to find in Belo Horizonte.

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Pipe cleaners and pom poms (or “fuzzy balls” as we tried to describe them before the trip) turned into a big conversation. They’re not common in Brazil, and only the people who had traveled to the U.S. with kids knew what they were. We’ve put together a pipe cleaner and pom pom care package for our new friends and we can’t wait to see what the government officials and school administrators make with them!

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