UA mural project puts student artists into the community

Christa Freer, El Inde Arizona

Senior University of Arizona art students are taking their talents out of the classroom and into the community by painting an 80-foot-long mural at the B’nai B’rith Covenant House, a HUD-funded senior living center in Tucson.

Eight mural designs were pitched by the students and voted on by Covenant House residents. Valeria Jimenez’s Sonoran Desert scene came out on top. 

It’s a jewel-toned landscape dotted with saguaros, mountains and Sonoran wildlife including roadrunners, lizards, coyotes and quail. 

One panel of Jimenez’s winning mural design. Photo courtesy of Kelly Leslie.

“A lot of the residents mentioned how much they love living in Arizona, so I focused my design on having everything Arizonan,” Jimenez said. “Some of them said that they wanted to see things that they don’t usually see every day, so I decided to play around with the size of the animals. You don’t see a big quail every day!”

The class behind the project is ART 465 “Clients and the Community Design,” taught by Associate Professor Kelly Leslie. The mural at Covenant House is just one of four community art projects her students completed throughout the semester. She says that mural work was a first for many of her students, but that it’s good real work experience for them.

Jimenez herself said that she rarely works in color or with digital mediums, so this project has proven to be a challenge for her. To prepare, she actually painted a small-scale version of the winning mural design at home, then scanned it into a digital illustration that she could present to the Covenant House residents. 

While there is no official mural arts program in the UA School of Art, Leslie says that she thinks something like that would be interesting to many of her students and points out that many alumni have gone on to be successful muralists including Karlito Miller Espinosa, known professionally as Mata Ruda, who’s painted several murals all over Tucson.

It was all hands on deck the first weekend of December at Covenant House. All 14 students in the class, plus Leslie, her husband and Stone, worked in shifts over the course of several days to assist with painting. Photo by Christa Freer, El Inde Arizona

There’s still a lot of painting left to be done, but the residents of Covenant House are very happy with the results thus far. 

“It’s nice to see color!” said Jeff Beach, a longtime resident. “Here in Tucson, you see green, you see brown — and then of course the only thing that’s blue is the sky — but you don’t see a lot of these colors, so it’s really good for the eyes.” 

He joked that the mural should actually be longer, and said it was nice to have the youthful energy of the students around the facility. 

It’s been a fun experience for the students as well. 

“I have loved being able to work on this project,” said Rachel Gonzales, one of the 14 students assisting with the mural. “It was a really cool process. All the residents here are great and they were really helpful along the way, so it was good.”

El Inde Arizona is a news service of the University of Arizona School of Journalism.

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