Collaborative mural creates images, opportunities for understanding

Students painting a mural at UCSC
Dozens of UCSC students have been painting a mural along the entrance to College Nine.
(Photos by Carolyn Lagattuta)
Students painting
Some students come day after day, others walk by and decide to take part.

UC Santa Cruz students are transforming a stark concrete retaining wall at the entrance to College Nine into a striking, colorful mural bearing a message of peace.

Painting began this week near the Namaste Lounge after a collaborative process both online and in person to create a design. Dedication is set for 12:30-1 p.m. Tuesday, May 29.

The project is collaborative from concept to design to implementation, says Diana Gilon, the chief collaborator or better yet, facilitator.

Since last weekend students, some of whom were just walking by, have grabbed brushes, climbed the scaffold, and painted. Between brush strokes many have been moved to discuss and share thoughts on the theme behind the images.

Gilon is a New York-based community mural artist who has helped organize similar murals at more than a dozen college campuses around the country and overseas. The theme "Building Understanding: Painting Narratives of the Middle East" is designed to bring together people with diverse perspectives, experiences, and curiosities.

Gilon holds U.S. and Israeli citizenship, which influences her artwork and teaching techniques.  She was born in Boston, lived for many years in Israel, and is married to an Israeli.

"It’s a collaborative effort, students walk by and get involved," said Nouran Hashimi, a third year psychology major at Merrill College.  "It's a good space to talk about these things," she said, referring to conflict in the Middle East.

Hashimi, who is half Iranian and half Iraqi, is depicted in the design, as are other students. "It facilitates interactions among people who might not normally talk. While you're painting you talk about the conflict," she said.

"I was trying to think of different ways to encourage dialog," said Colleges Nine and Ten Provost Helen Shapiro. "We wanted a new format to engage the students."

Shapiro said she had heard of Gilon's work at other institutions and contacted her.  The mural and the issues behind it fit well with the College Nine and Ten academic themes, she said;Global and International Perspectives for Nine, and Social Justice and Community for Ten.

Ben Gevercer graduated from College Nine in March with a degree in Global Economics, and is teaching a College Nine course this quarter: "Israel and Palestine: Pathways to a Deeper Understanding." He's been working on the mural as have his students.

For a month, students were involved in a virtual discussion and dialog via Flickr and Facebook pages on what the mural should be. Gilon arrived a week ago to assist in pulling the design together from the many images and ideas submitted.

Besides universities such as MIT, Wellesley, Brandeis, and now UCSC, Gilon has also facilitated similar projects at an Arab Jewish culture center in Haifa, Israel and at the University of Haifa.  She hopes to complete another project this summer at a Muslim and Jewish conference in Bratislava, the capital of Slovakia.

"One thing that is really exciting is listening to each student and how they identify with the symbols on the wall," she said of her first visit to UCSC and Santa Cruz.

"I love it. I'm thinking of moving here."