High schoolers learn skills, help design, construct public art projects

The scenic drive along Sahuarita Road near the Town of Sahuarita Municipal Complex recently got a little more picturesque.

A group of Sahuarita High School students this summer designed and painted a life-sized metal sculpture of letters spelling out “Sahuarita.” The roadside public art installation was funded through a Pima Association of Governments’ program that seeks to beautify public spaces and teach youth valuable life skills.

Sahuarita High School students and art teacher Joseph Poore at a ribbon cutting event for a new public art feature they designed painted.

“These students worked hard to make something beautiful for the town that will last for many years, and we couldn’t be more pleased with the final project,” said Sahuarita Mayor Tom Murphy. “It’s inspiring to witness young people come together with a common vision and common goal and work to see it through to completion.”

Pima Association of Governments helps foster the creative spirits of students in the region with the Transportation Art by Youth (TABY) program. Not only do students get inspired and learn skills, but they also get to help beautify the region with public art displays.  

“They were excited to have an opportunity to have a job,” said Joseph Poore, an art teacher at Sahuarita High School who guided students on the project.

Poore said the TABY program provides students with a sense of obligation because unlike the expectations often placed on them at school, the public art project was a responsibility they chose to take on. In taking on the responsibility, students also had to learn to work together and cooperate.

“A lot of times, art class is individualized. This was all about collaboration and compromise,” he said.

An interesting coincidence of the Sahuarita project, nine students were involved, allowing each to take responsibility for one letter of the sign.

It wasn’t just the students who felt a sense of accomplishment and pride at the completion of the public art project, but Poore also was gratified through his involvement.

“It’s like a highlight of my career. It’s been such an honor to be involved,” said Poore, who has worked with students on numerous TABY projects.  

The program, which PAG started in 1995 through its Transportation Improvement Program, offers paid summer employment for youth artists. Student artists across the region have helped complete more than 100 projects through the TABY program.

Jurisdictions submit the student proposals and manage the projects. The student art projects can include artwork, signage, or landscaping. Concepts are intended to enhance the aesthetics of the roadway system, improve urban gateway features, and develop unique qualities and identities in the communities where projects are located.

PAG annually seeks applications in the late winter or early spring for implementation in the summer. PAG’s Transportation Planning Committee approves eligible projects and funding. A project size is based on available funding or accrued TABY funding by jurisdiction. Read more about the program here.