Berkeley designer aims to bring color into local kids’ lives

The walls at Reems Academy are drab and dirty white, with peeling paint. What they need, says a Berkeley designer, is color. Photo: ColorCorps

On a recent weekday Laura Guido-Clark, a Berkeley-based designer, was talking to Sebastian Payne, a pupil at Reems Academy in East Oakland, about the color lime. How does it make you feel, she asked. “The color lime green gives me a happy feeling,” he replied. “Like it reminds me of joy and a nice hot day. It reminds me of when everyone gets along and enjoys each other. The joy of it means there’s no violence and everyone enjoys each other.”

Guido-Clark was holding a color workshop at the K-12 extended elementary charter school. The conversation with the children is also part of a bigger, ambitious mission. Reems Academy is located in what is sometimes referred to as Oakland’s killing zone. The neighborhood is plagued by high rates of violence, unemployment and poverty. “It’s not an environment of hope,” says the school’s Principal Lisa Blair. Neither is the environment very joyful. “There’s not a lot of brightness,” Blair continues. “The school walls are dirty white and drab grays. And the area is very dank and dark.”

Guido-Clark, whose specialty as a designer is color and texture, believes a comprehensive injection of color will have a transformative effect on the students, parents and staff at Reems.

“It will change the whole dynamic,” she says. Investing the time and resources to paint the school in more vibrant shades in consultation with the kids will, she says, give them both a sense of hopefulness as well as the feeling they are important — that their views count. With a professionally executed paint job, the hope is that the school could also become a beacon in a deprived neighborhood.

Guido-Clark has made Reems the first project in her new nonprofit, Project Color Corps, whose aim is to use the power of color as a change agent and “to infuse a sense of well-being and energy into urban neighborhoods nationwide”. Project Color Corps is currently raising funds to kickstart the Reems School initiative. Its goal is to raise $50,000 or more by May 30.

Laura Guido-Clark holds a color workshop with pupils at Reems Academy. Photo: Lisa Blair

Blair, who has been Principal for 11 of the school’s 12 years, took little persuading when she first met Guido-Clark and they discussed the idea.

“We formed a natural alliance,” she says. “Color creates a different atmosphere and will change this school like a flower blossoming.” She adds that Guido-Clark has gone far beyond merely launching a campaign to find paint, and choose colors. “She has forged a relationship with the children at large,” she says. The kids rush to be with Guido-Clark when she’s on campus, she says.

And the students are throwing themselves into the color initiative, supplying art for a community fundraising auction and helping select the colors that will eventually be used with their vocal input. “The color turquoise makes me feel happy and accompanied. It makes me feel like I am not alone, that I am with somebody all the time,” said Laura Orizaga. While Essenice A. Walker spoke about whey she loved green: “My favorite color is green like a frog blending in with a leaf.  The color green makes me feel like I can let myself out and don’t have to let my emotions in,” she told Guido-Clark. All of the kids’ thoughts on color have been collected into a book titled “The Hues of East Oakland.”

Student input into the Color Corps project is seen as essential, says Berkeley designer Laura Guido-Clark. Photo: Lisa Blair

Guido-Clark, who lives in Berkeley and whose studio is on 8th street, stresses what she sees as the importance of high standards of quality on the project. “We want to work with professional painters and scaffolders, as well as volunteers, and do proper prepping.”

The plan is to paint the school’s main building and on-site house, as well as one 2.5-story high wall of an adjacent church which is leased to the academy. The goal is also to create a large mural on one wall.

Guido-Clark will be holding a Color Speaks event where she will talk about Project Color Corps, in collaboration with the Northern California branch of the International Interior Design Association, on Wednesday April 16 at Design Within Reach on Fourth Street in Berkeley, beginning at 5:30pm. For details visit IIDANC. For more information and to donate to the Project Color Corp Reems Academy project, watch the video above and visit Project Color Corps.

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