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COCA Spotlight: Billy Penn “Teacher brings the right amount of silly to art class”

By: Amanda Sieradzki, COCA | November 27, 2017

Killearn Lakes Elementary school art teacher Billy Penn is willing to bet he has the coolest classroom in Leon County. Inhabiting the room since its construction, Penn says the architectural aesthetic of the room itself is one of a kind. The top half of a giant circular window serves as its main focal point, while lifesize cutouts of artists like Frida Kahlo and Vincent Van Gogh stand sentry, ushering in a new generation of creatives.

Penn and his students’ artwork aren’t contained by his classroom, however, as evidenced by four original, leprechaunthemed murals found on the school’s walls that are inspired by Killearn’s heritage as well as the school’s name.

Each year, the fifth-grade class helps Penn paint a one-of-a-kind image. He starts by sketching on the computer, then projects and outlines the scene onto the wall. From there, Penn encourages the art club, and any students passing by who want to help, to grab a smock and get painting.

“Music has concerts and PE has field day, so I thought, ‘What could I do?” says Penn, who is in his fifth year at Killearn Lakes. “The cool thing is that even as those events come and go, our murals are still here.”

The Annual Winter Festival Youth Art Exhibition, on display in City Hall Gallery through Jan. 22, is another place where Penn proudly showcases his students’ work. Excited to share their art with Tallahassee, Penn fondly recalls how his mother always kept his own drawings on display. He remembers one of his first pieces at age 4 of the alien from the movie “E.T. the Extra-terrestrial,” but is puzzled when his students ask him when he became an artist.

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