Mark Making introduces Magic Markers, a program to help teens

By Ashley Coker, The Pulse

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Image c/o Mark Makers

Chattanooga is entering a golden age when it comes to art appreciation, but a ride around the city will still lead you through plenty of eyesores. Dilapidated and graffiti-ed buildings still abound in some neighborhoods, including East Chattanooga. Mark Making is out to change that.

The organization, founded by Frances McDonald, has completed 32 visual arts projects in the city. The benefit of turning buildings from unappealing blemishes to works of art is a pronounced shift in public perception.

“When you drive through an area with these ugly buildings, you think you are in a bad, bad place. Seeing beautiful art instead shows you that you are in a community of caring, intentional people,” McDonald said. “You aren’t seeing all the chain-link fences because your eyes are bouncing from one colorful animation to the next.”

But Mark Making isn’t just concerned with beautifying East Chattanooga; they are also working to extend employment opportunities to the neighborhood’s teenagers. The organization introduced a new educational work program this month called Magic Markers.

Magic Markers gives area teens the chance to contribute to the welfare of their community, earn some money and come away with a letter of recommendation. Teens are paid on a scale ranging from minimum wage to $10/hour, depending on their performance. Each pay category has a specific set of requirements, starting with basic things like punctuality and politeness and ending with less tangible attributes like resilience and a spirit of teamwork.

McDonald said the purpose of the program is threefold: to help teens feel they are contributing members of the community, to give them a chance to earn their own money and to promote work readiness. Each project the program completes spans about three days, and all teens who complete the project will have successfully met these objectives.

For some of the teens, Magic Markers is the first chance they have had to earn their own money. During their first project on July 10, which involved covering the graffiti-laden walls of what was once the East Chattanooga Post Office, McDonald said she was struck by the pride the teens took in their work.

“They really thrived under the structure we had set up. If you don’t have structure, you don’t know when you’re doing something right or something wrong…By the last day, seven of the twelve teens were earning $10/hour,” she said.

Magic Markers began their second project on July 28. After the two summer sessions, Mark Making plans to make Magic Markers a Saturday program that incorporates art education and hands-on community projects, focusing on both “soft skills” like teamwork and persistence and “hard skills” like applying murals and selecting paint brushes.

McDonald described the program as the most successful thing Mark Making has ever done. If successful, the program will create a more beautiful East Chattanooga and a more work-ready generation of teenagers.

“It was magic. It gave me a whole different idea of what our young people can do,” she said.

If you’re interested in what Mark Making is doing, you can contact them at (423) 605-5257 or