Once scheduled for April 2, Auburn University’s "Murals as Public Art” has been canceled until further notice due to the coronavirus outbreak.
The event was planned to showcase the work of Esteban Del Valle, an interdisciplinary artist working in New York, and his students from the contemporary mural art studio course. Del Valle said the piece would exemplify the teamwork it took for the class to put it together and educate the public on Opelika’s history in a unique, remarkable way.
As a member of the Daniel F. Breeden Eminent Scholar Chair, Del Valle said part of his position was to have a community engagement aspect.
“We saw that the mural project was a good way to get the students engaged in this community conversation,” he said.
From a more personal point of view, Del Valle said he appreciated that art in public space had the ability to preserve people’s stories and preserve history.
“Art is often reserved for these privileged spaces and privileged narratives,” he said. “For murals, their very history is about representing the communities that they are physically put in.”
As a teacher, he said a mural encouraged collaboration and team building and a unified vision of a creative intention. Del Valle also saw the value murals have in providing job opportunities for young artists.
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“It allows you to be freelance and somewhat self-employed,” he said. “It teaches you skills on how to do community projects; it teaches you how to work with nonprofits, budgets and community partners.”
To begin the project, Del Valle first came to Auburn in fall 2019 to try to find a partner and to secure a wall for his students to paint. During this time, he also did a talk in which he advertised his new class to students in hopes that they would sign up for the spring semester.
Two students who were there at that talk in the fall ended up registering for his class: Enija Bidzane, senior in art, and John David Carcache, museum preparator at the Jule Collins Smith Museum of Fine Art.
Bidzane said she knew right away that she wanted to participate.
“Immediately after the class, I went to him, and I said, ‘I will be in your class next semester,’” Bidzane said.
Carcache said he also was very inspired by the artist’s presentation.
“I was really taken by a lot of the murals he’s done, and the people he’s worked with, and just the messages he’s put across,” Carcache said. “During his talk last semester he brought up how people tend to like ‘high art’ and mock other media that could be deemed as ‘low art.’”
Members of the community worked with Del Valle to help with this project, including Glenn Buxton, the director of the Museum of East Alabama, Del Valle said.
“We were lucky enough to link up with the community partner of the Museum of East Alabama in Opelika,” he said. “The museum was very excited to have us, and the students were very excited to have the wall. It’s a pretty unique mural opportunity because murals tend to focus on community history, and here we had this wealth of information at the museum.”
Before the group could tackle the big project, Del Valle had his students work in smaller groups to create indoor canvas murals. Later when the process for the East Alabama mural began, it included a digital mock-up, a presentation to the board for approval and the process of priming, gritting, drawing and painting.
The excessive rainfall at the beginning of the year caused damage to the base, which resulted in three days of scraping. Del Valle said that students immediately volunteered their time and energy.
“They’ve been really dedicated and really took ownership over this project,” he said.
The leadership of Del Valle was something that inspired the students to take action, Bidzane said.
“[Esteban] was always asking, ‘Who’s up for this?’ … He wanted us to go out of our comfort zones and push us to be better,” she said.
Carcache said though the project was long, it was very rewarding to work with the group.
“It seems draining, but when you’re all together time flies,” Carcache said.
The idea behind the mural was to use the old advertising language and old poster language found in the museum itself, Del Valle said. In addition to the mural, the students were going to present their canvas paintings and Del Valle’s own work, but due to the COVID-19 outbreak, the project has been canceled.
“Unfortunately, we had to cancel the museum event,” Del Valle said. “And with all the uncertainty there’s really no rescheduling of those things at the moment.”
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