While most students are glued to their laptop screens, textbooks, and notes preparing for their final, students of the Community Street Art course (GASP 119) at UC Merced have been out day after day working to bring more art and beauty to the campus.
The class has been working on two mural projects for the university under the guidance of Professor Richard Gomez. Both pieces share the same overall theme and focus, which is the agricultural legacy of the valley, as well as our hopes for a brighter, more connected, future as a community.
One mural is to be installed at the University’s Monarch Center which provides services for undocumented students, and the other is being painted at the community garden near the back of the campus, which was designed to help alleviate food insecurity with the students as well as give students a chance to gain firsthand experience in agriculture.
These murals, which also serve as the students final project and overall main focus of the class, have been quite the learning experience. While the professor is technically in charge, he openly expresses that he is not really where the credit belongs; the ideas as well as essentially all of the planning and organization has been led by the students. While the development of the concept was relatively smooth, the whole process of approvals in addition to the many levels (as well as potential outlets) of communication proved to be more than some students expected. Ultimately this class offers students an incredible, hands-on, opportunity to create art and make a lasting impact on the community. The class even organized a public event where people of the community could have an opportunity to get involved and come on campus to help them paint the community garden mural.
“I’ve learned how important it is to listen to the clients and their wants for the mural,” said Sal Lopez, who is currently in his last year at UC Merced as a psychology Major with a Minor in GASP. “We were taught how to communicate to get this information and it is where the true difficulty of making a mural comes from— and it’s not just the client. It has been difficult getting approval from the school to start the mural. But the Bobcat Garden has been wonderful to work with. They are truly passionate about their goals and that makes it easier for us as artist to be passionate about it as well. I’m very glad I chose to be a part of this mural; I’ve met some wonderful people. And hearing the history of the garden makes me realize how special it all is. I’ve never had a class that was so hands on before. So if that’s what you’re looking for, this is a great class for that.”
Another GASP student, Oscar Torres, said he was taking the class because he has a great admiration for muralism. “When I heard the class was focusing on creating murals with the community, my interest grew even more,” he said. “This class has taught me about some of the most important muralists in Mexico: Diego Rivera and David Alfaro Siqueiros, among others. I learned about their history, and their movement. We discussed their contributions to the art world and the importance of those contributions. We visited local murals in the communities of Planada and Le Grand, and we engaged in conversations with high school students about the possibility of creating a mural for them in Le Grand … I am working on the mural for the Monarch Center that offers services for undocumented students … I relate to this mural because the mural is inspired by immigrants, and I am an immigrant. I moved from Mexico City to live in Merced many years ago, and eventually became an American citizen. The mural, to me, represents the opportunities and infinite possibilities an immigrant can have to transform their own life in the US … I personally love this class. It is a class that requires teamwork and community work which is something that always compliments my spirit. I like to work with Professor Richard Gomez because I learn something new every time I work with him. His knowledge, talent, and experience has been a fundamental influence for my major and my art.”
Elizabeth Aviles, a fourth year English major and Global Arts minor, had this to say about the class: “Community Street Art caught my interest because I enjoy sketching and looking at any form of art and design. I feel honored to have worked with the other creative students. The mural represents the students who genuinely work hard for their families, and are motivated to learn more and create change in the field they are interested in. Overall, the professor and the classroom have shown amazing creativity when working on the mural and the garden project.”