School's Mural and Garden Project Helps Alum Grow as an Artist

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    Photo provided by Maria Roman
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    Photo provided by Maria Roman
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    Photo provided by Maria Roman
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    Photo provided by Maria Roman
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    Photo provided by Maria Roman
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    Photo provided by Maria Roman

By Emily Brown

Maria Roman ‘18 believes art has the power to transform communities.

From April to late July, Roman was the lead assistant for a mural installation, part of the Uprooted/reRooted project, a collaboration between the William Cramp Elementary School and Mural Arts, and neighbors and community partners, to revitalize underused spaces on the school’s grounds.

“It was all about working with the community,” said Roman. “The parents are very involved with the school, and worked very closely with the artist, Marion Wilson.”

Roman’s job was to paint and install the mural. It’s made up of depictions of plant cells and seeds, and incorporates drawings from third-graders and parents. It’s so large, it had to be painted on parachute cloth.

“We painted at the Mural Arts storefront in Kensington, and then rolled the cloth on the walls of the school with a heavy gel,” Roman said. It was then squeegeed so that it laid flat against the brick. When completed, the mural will wrap around the entire school. The second half of the mural will be done next spring.

Culture Kitchen

The mural is just one piece of Wilson’s ambitious concept of Uprooted/reRooted. Another part, the Culture Kitchen, or Cochina de la Cultura, is a two-year vision that started with developing a garden focusing on culturally significant plants in the school’s vacant courtyard in April 2017.

The school’s students dug up weeds from a crack in the sidewalk and filled it with succulents, representing healing from the drug addiction that had ravaged the community. Lavender plants signify awareness of domestic abuse, and breaking the circle of domestic abuse. Roman said it is a living testament to growth.

“I saw the project as a metaphor for what kids and families in the community are going through, and growing the garden was a real teaching moment for them, to get involved and see what they could do to nurture their own community,” Roman said.

During all phases of the project, Wilson and the team at Mural Arts joined with the community to develop a curriculum geared toward learning ecology and ecosystems. “There are elements of teaching in the art of the mural: the life cycle of plants, microscopic pictures of plant cells, and seeds sprouting,” she added. Together, the garden and the mural become a sustainable, living art piece that families in the community can nurture and enjoy.

Close to the Heart

Roman has been working with Mural Arts since her junior internship under Eric Okdeh, and Okdeh has linked her up with other Mural Arts projects. She has worked on nine murals since her internship ended, but this has been an especially personal experience.

“I’m Puerto Rican, and at the same time I was working on my senior thesis, I was involved in this project with a majority Puerto Rican neighborhood,” she said.

The day the community came together to break ground on the gardens around the school, “there were so many aunts and moms involved in that,” Roman said. “It was a huge community day where the concrete was dug out and the garden was planted. Everyone showed up to cook food.”

It was a ritual with which Roman could identify.

“My senior thesis was a painting of my grandma in the kitchen,” says Roman, who studied Fine Arts with a Business minor at Moore. “I was interested in exploring my Puerto Rican roots through food, and to see all the families come out and cook at the community day was something I really felt connected to.”

Transformative Impact

For Roman, a hands-on approach was very powerful.

“I created relationships with this community that I now feel a part of,” she said. “There has been growth for the community, and growth for me as an artist.”

Roman will return to William Cramp Elementary next year to complete the second half of the mural. In the meantime, she is working on another mural with Okdeh. And looking forward?

“I’m looking to stay at Mural Arts,” said Roman, “and try to do more work with mothers and children.”

Published on August 3rd, 2018