MU/Latino Community Mural Project
Dr. Christine Filippone, Assistant Professor of Art History and Dr. Kim Mahaffy, Associate Professor of Sociology and Director of the Latino Studies Program undertook a collaborative project with students to create two digitally-printed murals addressing experiences of immigration and cultural assimilation of members of Lancaster’s rapidly growing Latino community. According to the most recent U.S. Census estimates at the onset of the project, 33% of Lancaster city residents self-identified as Hispanic/Latino-- the largest concentration in Lancaster County. In the school district of Lancaster, 57% of the 11,000 students were Hispanic/Latino. Millersville University had experienced an 11% increase in Hispanic/Latino enrollment from the previous year. In spite of these numbers, no public artistic representation of the experiences of this population, or their contributions to the community, existed on campus and few in Lancaster City. To engage students in the process of recovering and representing these stories, Professors Filippone and Mahaffy invited muralist Michelle Angela Ortiz to campus as artist-in-residence to facilitate the development of relationships with members of the Latino community in Lancaster and with Latino students on campus.
As a muralist for Philadelphia’s famed Mural Arts Program and with experience creating community murals in Fiji, Ecuador and embattled Juaraz, Mexico, Ortiz brought ample community arts experience to the project. Ortiz began by leading two community meetings at MU42 to introduce students to their community partners, establish a level of trust and frame themes common to the process of immigration, including loss of family, home and adaptation to a new life in Lancaster. The artist then met with my contemporary art history and Professor Mahaffy’s African American and Latino educational experiences classes, jointly, nearly once per week. She trained the students to conduct a series of video and audio-taped interviews with their community partners to document their stories. University archivist Marilyn Parrish contributed to the project by sharing her extensive experience in capturing oral histories.
Upon completion of the interviews, students worked with Ortiz to identify imagery intrinsic to their partners’ stories or shared as photographs, treasured objects and text from letters written home. Students were especially interested in sharing symbols of their partner’s triumphs, often hard won after years of struggle. Throughout the interview process, many students developed relationships with their partners leading to an appreciation for their accomplishments despite obstacles often unimaginable to the students.
As part of her honors project for the course, Millersville student Gabrielle Kime worked directly with Ortiz and me as a project leader for the class. She was charged with documenting the entire community arts process including community meetings, classroom workshops, interviews, mural theme development and design. Kime sorted though many hours of footage to create a comprehensive narrative of the process for the project website, designed by Graphic Design student Aaron Chu, under the supervision of James Pannafino, Assistant Professor of Art & Design at Millersville http://www.millersville.edu/~latinomural/
For the printing of the digital murals, one comprised of images and text derived from interviews with Millersville students, titled We Belong Here: Paths of Inspiration, 2011. “Nosotros pertenecemos: Caminos de inspiración”, which now hangs in the atrium of the Student Memorial Center (SMC), and the other reflecting the stories of community members, titled Finding our Place, installed at the Lancaster Barnstormer’s Clipper Magazine Stadium, Dr. Filippone and Dr. Mahaffy identified generous business partners Lamar Advertising and Sign-A-Rama, Lancaster. Lamar general manager Tom Loper explained that he wished to support the project because his two sons were artists and he believed in the possibilities of community engagement. Students and community partners then celebrated the completion of the murals in early May at two dedications: one held at SMC, and the other hosted by the Barnstormers who brought the students onto the field for a presentation to the crowd.
The community arts process of documenting oral histories and representing them visually broadened the cultural and generational perspectives of all involved and fostered in students an appreciation for the struggles and accomplishments of individuals they may not have otherwise encountered. The murals are a culmination of stories of survival, struggle, triumph and hope and function as testament to cultural barriers bridged and new relationships formed.