Artist Brings Bursts of Color to Schools’ Handball Courts

Murals at two elementary schools in Huntington Beach have brightened up the campuses

Artist Brings Bursts of Color to Schools’ Handball Courts
Artist Robbie Simon created this mural at Moffett Elementary School in Huntington Beach. Photo courtesy of Robbie Simon.

Can a ball wall be beautiful? Actually, the giant slabs of concrete ubiquitous at elementary schools make pretty good canvases.

Handball courts at Moffett Elementary and Hawes Elementary are proof.

This school year, the two campuses in the Huntington Beach City School District traded in the drab grays of their playing courts for walls that are now bursting with vibrant hues, exuding energy to match the enthusiasm of the kids playing at recess.

“We wanted something different, something that really stood out, something that was inspiring, new, fresh. We really wanted to excite and inspire our students,” Moffett Principal Forest Holbrook said of his school's mural project in a recent phone interview.

The result is a giant representation of the school’s name in blue, orange, yellow, green, white, and black that has brightened up the TK-5 campus.

“Our kids love it, our parents love it, our staff loves it. It's exciting,” Holbrook said, noting that classes have already started taking photos in front of it.

Photo courtesy of Robbie Simon

Los Angeles-based artist Robbie Simon created the massive masterpieces at the schools. Simon established his studio in 2016 and he's done artwork for the U.S. Open of Surfing contest and for musicians, including Post Malone.

Simon said he uses high-contrast colors to bring positivity and life to his work, drawing on themes in nature for what are often abstract creations. “It’s open to interpretation, and people can kind of find their own stories in it,” Simon said of the Moffett artwork.         

Simon, who grew up in Huntington Beach, did not expect to end up painting murals near his former schools, which were Eader Elementary, Sowers Middle School, and Edison High School. 

Last summer, his sister asked him to transform the handball courts at Hawes Elementary, where Simon’s nieces are students. He said it was a job he was happy to take on.

“It's very cool to make work for kids in general and then for my nieces, you know, I’d be honored,” he recalled telling his sister. He shared that he felt a unique sense of pressure to deliver for the girls.

And he did. His creation features a school motto surrounded by images inspired by nature including ocean waves, a butterfly, and a flower.

Image from Robbie Simon's Instagram account shows his mural at Hawes Elementary School in Huntington Beach.

Holbrook was visiting Hawes with his family when Simon’s artwork sparked inspiration. Holbrook’s wife wondered: why can’t we have something similar at Moffett? He brought up the idea to leaders of the school’s Parent Teacher Association and they were on board.

“After our most successful Jog-a-Thon fundraiser in the history of Moffett, the PTA wanted to use part of the funds to brighten up our campus,” Moffett PTA President Lindsay Araya wrote in a text message to Spotlight Schools. The Jog-a-thon raised more than $80,000 for the PTA and the mural cost around $30,000, according to Holbrook. 

Araya said the vibrant mural “exceeded expectations in every way.”

“I think that everyone would agree that it's well worth the price tag and especially what it brings to our school, our community,” Holbrook said. “Creativity, it's something that could be lost. When we have art like this on campus and then different art programs on campus, it really fosters that creativity in our students,” he later added.

Last year Holbrook said PTA fundraising dollars paid for a new playground at the campus. The playground and mural are examples of gifts to the school that families and the community can experience. 

“Our fundraising takes care of buses and field trips and curriculum and technology and stipends for teachers to buy supplies … and all sorts of things,” Holbrook said, explaining that often families are unable to directly see where the money goes. “And it's also really neat to see when [a gift] is something kind of tangible, something that our community can see.”

“I just think it just adds so much more life to the school, and fun, and beauty,” Simon said. “When you add something like a mural to a school it shows the school cares that it's a place that they want to be an inviting experience.”

According to Holbrook, it isn’t just the students excited about the new addition. 

“I've had neighbors who I've never spoken with who are in our community reach out and thank us for bringing beauty and art to their Moffett tract,” Holbrook said. 

“I'm really appreciative of  both Hawes and Moffett for being open to it because I just think murals and public art of all forms and styles adds so much to a community,” Simon said.

Artist Robbie Simon works on a mural at Moffett Elementary School in Huntington Beach. Photo courtesy of Robbie Simon.

The Moffett mural was expected to be completed over spring break and was meant to be a surprise for the students. But April rain showers delayed the project, which meant Simon had to finish painting with the students and staff looking on.

“But it actually ended up working out better,” Holbrook said, explaining that the students were still surprised and got to witness the artist at work.

“Much of the mural was already complete so we still had that ‘wow’ effect of, ‘what is this? This is new, this is exciting.’ But then afterwards, it was really neat for our students to watch Robbie's process and the work that he did.”

Simon agreed. “It actually was such a more rewarding experience to have the kids and even the parents and the teachers around because, I mean, honestly, everyone was so sweet and positive and encouraging,” he said.

The mural at Hawes took 80 hours on the wall to complete, according to Simon. Thanks to some assistance from helpers, the Moffett project was completed in less time.

Simon said that when he was a young student, he didn’t picture himself as a talented artist. “I had to redo assignments because of bad handwriting. I couldn't draw anything but stick figures,” he recalled.

But a desire to create, first sparked by using a digital camera, drove him to pursue his own artistic endeavors and style. Now that journey has brought him full circle.

“I never thought I'd be coming back home to contribute culturally to Huntington Beach, but, you know, it's fate,” Simon said with a cheerful laugh.

For Holbrook, it's the culture at Moffett that has also benefited from Simon's contribution.

"Anybody who knows Moffett, knows this community, knows that it truly is special," Holbrook said. "And it's neat when we're able to come up with projects like this that accentuate why this is such a great place to go to school."

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