Panha Nithik Mao thought he understood the value of freedom. So putting brush to poster paper, he painted the slogan "Freedom Is Not a Game" on a drawing of the Statue of Liberty in front of Manhattan. And this month, southbound motorists at the intersection of Pine Avenue and 7th Street in Long Beach can view Mao's work on a 24-by-14-foot billboard for all to see.
"It just came to my mind and I put it on there," said Mao, 10, who escaped from his native Cambodia to settle in Long Beach six years ago with his mother, brother and sister. "I never dreamed I would have my work on a billboard."
Mao, a fifth-grade student at Bixby Elementary School, was one of about 200 youngsters who submitted drawings this year to a school contest sponsored by Foster and Kleiser, a Los Angeles advertising company specializing in outdoor signs that has taken Bixby Elementary under its wing as part of an adopt-a-school program.
The goal was to produce a poster exemplifying liberty.
"It had to be highly visible--something that someone could read in 10 seconds," said Christine Merriman, art director for the company. "This one won because he had a very good phrase and visually it was very powerful. It was the best drawn and had the most fully filled-in imagery."