Art In The Hallway

Note: This post is part of a year-long project in which I make notes of my final year working for the School District of Lee County, Florida. I think of this final of 35 years as my "senior year" as an educator.

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This afternoon, I was making the long walk from Student Assignment (located at the outer end of one of the four main color-coded spurs of this building) to the Office of the Board Attorney (located at the outer end of another spur).

The school district administration building used to be a regional shopping mall, and these hallways were once lined with shops. Thanks to the volunteer efforts of art teachers every summer, these long hallways are now instead lined with hundreds and hundreds of pieces of recent student artwork, which so far as anyone can tell makes this the largest collection of student artwork around these parts, maybe even across the state. These colorful collages, drawings, photographs, and paintings are a daily amazement to first-time visitors to our building, and they make these walks more pleasant for staff who work here.

We only keep half the lights on in these hallways to conserve energy and keep the power bill down, so that leaves plenty of dark corners. It occurs to me how gloomy that might seem without the artwork, and so I’m grateful for the paintings of flowers and grandparents that keep us smiling.

Another attempt at making the place more pleasant is that we play a local radio station in the hallways. Unfortunately, the station’s playlist seems to consist entirely of what seems to be no more than five or six songs from half a century ago that they play in tight rotation. This always grates on me, since the artists seem to be mostly white men, and since the genre seems to be exclusively soft rock — the blander, the better. This is not the playlist that I would pick to cheer the little children and their 20-something parents who walk up and down these halls with us every day. The families we serve are from today’s generation and somehow I doubt that their favorite music would include Rupert Holmes’ cloying “Escape (The Pina Colada Song)” or Rod Stewart’s half-hearted cover of Bob Dylan’s “Forever Young.” It bothers me that we miss this opportunity to make our building more contemporary and more welcoming. I’ve grumbled about it before, but no one has time to solve it.

Every now and then, the station throws in a seventh soft rock song from an older white guy just to keep things lively. Today, the seventh song was Phil Collins’ “In The Air Tonight” from 1981. That’s actually a great song, but it’s from a long time ago — especially if we consider that the parents of our kindergarten students were probably born at least a decade after this song had left the charts.

Thus I was surprised to realize that someone walking about 40 paces behind me was singing along with the song. I could hear them singing not just the words themselves, but also the freaky-spacey echoes that were an important part of the sonic brilliance of the song. The famous musical climax comes late in the song when there is a dramatic break and the sinister-sounding drums come in hard and fast for the first time. The person behind me sang the drum parts, too: “ba-dum, ba-dum, ba-dum dum DUM.”

I turned around to see who the rock star behind me might be. I could tell she was an employee from her shiny gold badge with the District seal, and I could make out that was probably about my age, but I didn’t know her by name. Her face glowed hot and red as she realized that I had probably heard her entire concert, and she just waved sheepishly. I waved back and pantomimed a drum roll and we both laughed. I turned and continued on my way, and we both headed on down the darkened halls, passing by festive paintings of seahorses and butterflies, listening to Phil Collins sing about something coming in the air tonight.

– J.F. "Jeff" McCullers