The mural in the stairwell of the Fairfax School begins with a career day meeting

FAIRFAX CITY, VA – Emmanuel Chavez Galicia expects to complete the large mural he is painting in a stairwell at Katherine Johnson Middle School in Fairfax City within a week.

The path the Dixer Studio tattoo artist took to paint the mural began with a conversation he had last November during the school’s career day.

After Galicia answered students’ questions about pursuing a career in the arts, school officials told her they wish they had known about him sooner.

“They were like, ‘We’d like to have a mural,'” Galicia told Patch on Wednesday. “I said, ‘I can do a mural.'”

What followed were months of discussions and approvals, culminating in the purchase of Galicia paint from Home Depot and the construction of scaffolding in one of the school’s stairwells.

“There’s an astronaut right there, and behind it will be the codes,” the artist said, pointing to the unfinished portion at the top right of his huge portrait of Johnson. Most people are probably familiar with the story of the famous NASA mathematician from the 2016 biopic “Hidden Figures.”

When the college adopted its new name in 2021, it debuted a mural depicting Johnson near the main entrance. With its design, Galicia wanted to do something different.

“We wanted something inspiring, but not just inspirational, something modern and more of a custom piece,” Galicia said.

Earlier Wednesday, the college held its 2022 Career Day, bringing working professionals into the school to talk to seventh and eighth graders about jobs they might want to do one day.


Related: 100 professionals mingle with college students during career day


School counselor Friday L. Oeur, who was one of the organizers of this year’s Careers Day, said it was important to show students what kinds of careers exist.

“If you expose them to a career now, they can start preparing for and taking classes in high school,” she said. “We had our Falls Church and Chantilly academies here. There are so many options to get in even at the high school level. It’s really important to get them interested in that now.”

Most of the questions the students posed to Galicia on Wednesday were the same ones anyone might have for a working artist.

“They were just asking natural organic questions,” he said. “They were preoccupied with what it takes to be an artist? I feel like people and kids, in general, have no idea what an artist is, do they? “When it comes to loving a painter or a graphic designer, what is it? Art is everything, really.”

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