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School murals remind Newport children that ‘You are loved’

School murals remind Newport children that ‘You are loved’
Artist Alex Cook's "You are loved" mural stretches more than 50 feet at Harbor View Elementary School in Newport Beach. (Photo by Hillary Davis)

New murals at two Newport Beach elementary schools give students a simple but powerful daily reminder:

“You are loved.”

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The affirmation is in letters 6 feet tall and stretching more than 50 feet at Harbor View and Lincoln schools in Corona del Mar.

At Harbor View, the aphorism towers in cool blues, greens and yellows over a playground, a kind of verbal hug from Boston-based muralist Alex Cook, who was brought in by Newport locals keen to help him spread his word.

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The message gets to the heart of how to be a productive human being, something everybody needs to know and apply to daily living, he said.

“It’s really hard to live a useful, well-adjusted life if you don’t have an active sense of being valuable,” Cook said.

Cook started his “You are loved” messaging about five years ago when he was painting a mural at a school in New Orleans. The principal there told him she wanted her students to “feel safe,” so they brainstormed encouraging phrases they could layer on the painting. Among them: “You are beautiful.” “You are important.” “You are needed.” “You can do it.”

“You are loved.”

Cook said he came away from New Orleans energized by the bold declaration. He said it felt like a breakthrough to be able to tell people so directly of their intrinsic worth.

“I want to say this all over the place, especially in places where people might not really be feeling it,” he said.

Alex Cook stands next to his "You are loved" mural at Harbor View Elementary School in Newport Beach. “I want to say this all over the place, especially in places where people might not really be feeling it,” he said.
Alex Cook stands next to his "You are loved" mural at Harbor View Elementary School in Newport Beach. “I want to say this all over the place, especially in places where people might not really be feeling it,” he said. (Photo by Hillary Davis)

Cook often does institutional art. His murals, including those in the “Loved” series, are in schools, churches, community centers and correctional facilities across the country. In 2016, he and inmates at the Orange County Central Men’s Jail painted a “You are loved” mural in the jail’s chapel.

Leslee Allen wasn’t looking for an artist’s services when she stumbled across Cook on Facebook, but she immediately connected with his message and felt it was needed for Newport children after a student at Corona del Mar High School committed suicide this year.

She asked around in her circles and found plenty of people who agreed and chipped in enough money to fly in Cook to paint the two pieces over the past two weeks.

The Harbor View and Lincoln murals are the 45th and 46th in Cook’s “Loved” series.

Allen joined Cook at Harbor View, where 60 sixth-graders contributed to the mural, filling in segments among the mosaic-like veins Cook threaded through the words. It was the sixth-grade class’s gift to the school, and the children were thrilled to be part of the process, Principal Todd Schmidt said.

As students walked by, they asked Cook what the letters would say. He urged the kids to piece it together themselves.

“They loved the discovery of it,” Allen said. “‘You are loved — oh, wow!’”

The Harbor View mural occupies a formerly blank expanse of stucco that was the backdrop of weekly assemblies.

Schmidt said the message sets the right tone for the school and fits with the social and emotional learning that teachers hope the children will take away with their academic lessons.

“We want [our] actions to meet our words,” Schmidt said.

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