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Knowledge is power: Ratha Sok and CEC Middle College students create a mural

Ratha Sok had never taken on a project quite like this one. But now approximately 1,500 square feet of space -- a pillar outside CEC Middle College that used to be just gray brick -- is covered in an eclectic mural painted by Sok, fellow artist friends Denzel Samaniego, Jin Oh, and Thien Tai, and five CEC students.

After being approached by Law instructor Ben Migliorino and Principal Scott Springer, Sox gave a presentation at the school about becoming an artist and using his art to better the community. He created a mural club at CEC that attracted five student artists who decided the theme of the mural, sketched out a design, and went to work. The club was given total artistic control of the project.

See also: 100 Colorado Creatives: Ratha Sok, 2Kool

The theme for the project: "Knowledge Is Power." The first thing the club put on the wall was an open book with those words inscribed inside. From there, the student artists let their imaginations take over, starting from the top and working their way down. One of the students came up with the space theme that now covers the top third of the mural, inspired by the idea of infinite possibilities and wanting to create something "out of this world," says Sok.

From the roof of the school they could see the Denver skyline, which became the middle section of the mural. Taking over the city is Third Eye Panda, a character that can be found in three other murals by Sok, including one at Brown Elementary School.The final section, closest to the ground, is a smorgasbord of ideas from each contributor.

Two more pillars along the outside of CEC might become spaces for more student art. But after the challenges of creating such an eclectic piece on a round surface, the next pillar will have a much simpler design, Sok says: "This was a lot of work -- especially the city and the random characters that were placed in it. It was well worth it."

Now that the mural is complete, Sok is still trying to take it all in. "I still can't believe I did this," he says. "With the help of the students, and my other two friends, we made this happen."

Sok has been making art since he attended West High School; he created his first mural at West, also with a "Knowledge Is Power" theme, in 2007. Now he owns his own clothing line while still creating his own artwork and murals.

It was art that helped keep Sok on a positive track. Without it, he says, his life could have gone on a very different path -- since he grew up with Kings that Reck (KTR), which has since acquired a record for burglary. "Those are my little homies. We grew up together and I could have easily gone on that route, too," he says. "I love them to death. We all had the same kinds of strengths and talents, but we pursued them at different routes at a certain point."

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Looking for more ways to give back to the community through art, Sok plans to launch a new project next month that will provide free sketchbooks for young artists. Every month his clothing line, run out of a pop-up shop on Ninth and Santa Fe, comes out with a new T-shirt. With every purchase of one of these shirts, He'll donate a sketchbook to arts organizations that have helped Sok in the past: VSA Arts, Arts Street, Street Youth Biz and Urban Peak.

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