||Wondering how to utilize my freshly issued BFA, I became captivated by the publicly accessible format of mural paintings. Always on display, murals can be enjoyed by everyone, regardless o f their age or socio-economic background. Many have become landmarks in their community, often catalysts for neighborhood involvement. Unlike art cloistered in museums, or hidden away in the homes o f the wealthy, murals invite interaction; murals show that walls can unite rather than divide. I decided to share my newfound enthusiasm by teaching mural painting to youth at a recreation center in Philadelphia, the city of brotherly love. As we swept up broken bottles and trash, rolled white primer over graffiti, and painted a mural on an outdoor wall, neighbors both young and old halted their activities of the day to compliment our efforts and praise the abilities of the youth. We discovered that the tangible, transformative nature o f the art we created together extended beyond our circle. The youth learned firsthand that they have the ability to create a better environment for themselves and others. From then on I was hooked. Before embarking on a MFA in Community-Based Art Education, I created many collaborative murals with youth and community members during my three-year tenure as the director of after-school and summer programs for the Philadelphia Mural Arts Program, and continued to create works of art with youth during my three years teaching workshops for YouthCity Artways in Salt Lake. What drew me to graduate studies was a desire to build on my existing practical knowledge by studying scholarly methods of education and community organizing, specifically those centered on teaching kids to relationships with community members, and becoming involved in more projects that are grassroots based, not "top down." I enjoyed the difficult and rewarding challenge of capturing issues that are important to a neighborhood in a meaningful and aesthetically appealing way. Most of my community-based artistic efforts sought to integrate multiple viewpoints into accessible and cohesive compositions. Collaborative art-making is intriguing to me because it is such a challenge to navigate the balance between integrating the aesthetics of others and ones own vision. When I see one artist create many disparate works with different groups, I often find that they look similar. If an artist truly created a piece with others, shouldn't it possess less of their own individual aesthetic and more of the aesthetic o f the group? I feel that community-based artworks should reflect their unique collective o f creators as much as possible. During my studies I wanted to explore methods of involving the youth in more actively in the compositional decision-making. I hoped to learn how to involve students more in the creative process, and still make a piece that had high aesthetic quality. I felt that works created with the lead artist dominating the aesthetic were nice looking, but lacked a sense of authenticity and diversity that comes when creating with others. I chose to pursue an MFA program instead of a MA or PhD in education, social work, or urban planning, because I feel that fostering artistic growth and expression is most important to my collaborative artistic efforts. As an educator I strongly believe that anyone can make a successful work of art. I am continually inspired by the beautiful creations of individuals who do not consider themselves artists. However, when creating art with people who have limited experience with art materials or ideas, I think it is most useful to have a trained artist lead the group. Artists can utilize their experience and knowledge to ensure that creative endeavors are successful. The more a finished piece engages its viewers, the more likely it is to instill pride in its creators.