Artists Decorate Our Community with the OlyPlywood Project

A young artists in Olympia works on a blue, purple and pink mural of large lips for the OlyPlywood Project. Photo credit: Alyssa Knudtson

What do you do when your costly 200-foot fence gets tagged? You could get discouraged. You could complain about “youth today.” Or, it could inspire you to create a wall of art made by local artists, which is exactly what Alyssa and Peter Knudtson did with their property line on the corner of Carlyon Avenue SE and Henderson Boulevard SE.

“Someone decided to tag our fence,” explains Alyssa. “This was pretty upsetting considering how much work we had put into putting it up. Thankfully, we were able to clear the spray paint quickly, but as we cleaned, my husband and I started talking about how cool it would be to put a mural on the fence.”

The couple realized that living next to two schools, they had an opportunity to enrich the neighborhood and the children who went to school nearby with colorful artwork. “We realized that it’s pretty sad that there isn’t more art surrounding their learning environment,” Alyssa shares. “Chainlink fencing isn’t vibrant and beautiful so we wanted to bring that art into our neighborhood.”

The First Mural and the Beginning of the OlyPlywood Project

They talked to some artists, but 200 feet was a lot of real estate for just one mural. It was suggested that they break it up into sections, and so they decided to start with one section of fence, that was the same size as a standard piece of plywood. “Local artist, John Tafejian, was the first to take a piece on with his signature triangles,” Alyssa shares.

circles and triangles in yellows, blues and black on a cedar fence
John Tafejian was the first artist to create a mural for the Knudtsons’ fence in Olympia. Photo credit: Alyssa Knudtson

Alyssa is a teacher in the North Thurston Public Schools district. Over the past 12 years, she has taught middle school English Language Arts, Social Studies and Leadership. She currently is the ELA Instructional Specialist. Her ties to education made her quickly think about getting youth involved for future art pieces. “Having worked at a middle school for over a decade that didn’t have an art class, I had students begging for art opportunities and a place to show their work,” Alyssa explains. “I cleared the walls of my classroom every year and let the kids fill the void with what they wanted to see. It always looked amazing! The OlyPlywood Project is an extension of that idea to give artists in our community of all ages that same opportunity.”

Getting Involved with Mural Painting for the OlyPlywood Project

Painting a mural is open to anyone in the community, of any age, that wants to paint. Artists submit a mock-up of the design they plan to create. The only rule is that must convey positive messages that reflect our unique community. “If it fits that criteria then we deliver their piece of plywood!” Alyssa says. “There is no age requirement! We have art on the fence or in progress from artists as young as 7 years old. Entire families have been working together to support their children in creating something. It really takes a village and the mural is becoming a reflection of that.”

two people drawing out mural ideas at a desk
If you or you child want to paint a mural for the fence, just email OlyPlywood Project with your idea, if it’s accepted, they supply all the materials. Photo credit: Alyssa Knudtson

With youth, coordination of the painting is handled through the parents. Alyssa and her husband drop off and pick up the pieces, which they then seal before hanging on their fence. They have also reached out to art teachers, who have integrated the program into their classroom time. Jenna Fissenden at Aspire Performing Arts Academy teaches a Place-Based Art Outside Art class and they are doing a mural as a learning project. Students in sixth through eighth planned concepts, drafted panels, and researched various themes including bees and floras, native species and alders. “Now they are applying those ideas to their boards to paint,” says Alyssa. “That’s been a major undertaking but the learning process has been amazing to watch. Getting all of the kids involved in deciding on one concept seems to be the most challenging part.”

Young artists stand by their mural with bright colors and toadstools to add to the Knudtson’s fence line as part of the OlyPlywood Project. Photo credit: Photo credit: Alyssa Knudtson

She has also heard from Olympia School District, that may get involved later in the school years. “We’d love to get more art teachers and students from all over Thurston County involved!” adds Alyssa.

And once her fence is full? “We’ve talked about having art up for a limited time if we get too many submissions at some point,” Alyssa answers. “We’ve also had neighbors reach out that are interested in hosting on their own fence line, so we may just extend the project and create a whole art corridor! We are happy to grow this work beyond our property line.”

A lot of the paint has come from local Buy Nothing Groups, the Knudtsons’ own spending, and Sherwin Willimas donations. They are always looking for more paint to be donated, as well as plywood and sealant. “I’d love to be able to offer up more supplies to those that want color options of paint,” Alyssa says. “Plywood and lacquer are also not cheap. We currently pay for that out of pocket, which really adds up. Any donations we can get to move this project forward would be greatly appreciated!”

To get involved by donating or to submit a piece of art for placement, contact Alyssa at You can also follow them on the @OlyPlywoodProject Instagram.

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