Lauren and the Purple Crayon | National Apartment Association

Lauren and the Purple Crayon

When I was in pre-school, my grandma came in for Grandparents Day.

That afternoon, our teacher asked us to draw a picture for our guests. While all of the other students excitedly drew elaborate houses, families and animals—which I find hard to believe since we were 4 years old, but so says my grandma—I plucked a purple crayon out of the box, drew a single line on the paper and announced that I was finished. It’s a happy coincidence my favorite book was “Harold and the Purple Crayon.”

While I still see this purple “drawing” as an act of young artistic genius reminiscent of Picasso and Harold’s early years, my grandma saw it as an embarrassment.

This is why the arts are important. Without the proper instruction, I may have gone through life with nothing but a purple crayon in my hand, drawing unintelligible squiggles throughout high school. I’d probably become very rich and revered after my death, as all geniuses are, but until that time my artistic ability would be pitied and my family would be shamed.

Fortunately, one property management company is doing their part to encourage artistic talent within every student—and decorate their hallways along the way.

Chicago-based Sherman Residential purchased Tribeca, a 398-unit mid-rise in Plano, Texas, last September and decided to leave the decorating up to local art students. Instead of spending nearly $10,000 to purchase outside art, the company gave the money to the schools and embraced the opportunity to support art programs faced with major budget cuts.

The company donated a 6-foot-by-4-foot blank canvas and a $50 gift card for art supplies to each school in the local school district with an art program. At the risk of hanging up creations comprised of a single purple line, every completed canvas returned to Tribeca would be put on permanent display in the mid-rise.

The response—and quality of the artwork—was overwhelming, says Debbie Cooper, Senior Property Manager for Tribeca. The community had everything from a group of elementary school students working together on a canvas to an exceptional high school artist who was picked by her teacher to paint the entire thing herself. No abstract shapes or lines were reported.

Tribeca hosted a reception and gallery event in late April to showcase the artwork, with more than 500 local residents, students, teachers and parents in attendance—many of whom toured Tribeca for the first time.

Cooper says many of the guests were so impressed with the artwork that they wanted to buy it—something I cannot say for my pre-school canvas. While none of the pieces will be sold, all of the artwork will be around years from now in Tribeca for Grandma and Grandpa to admire—or hide their heads in shame—whenever they wish.

For more on The Tribeca Project, check out “A Splash of Local Color” in the August issue of units, which mails July 8.

Has your community come up with creative ways to save money while serving the community? E-mail your ideas to me at