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Students worked with an international artist in residence during fall semester to create mural panels for the ground-floor meeting area of James Smith Residence Hall.
Students worked with an international artist in residence during fall semester to create mural panels for the ground-floor meeting area of James Smith Residence Hall.

‘A culture of acceptance’

Photo by Evan Krape

Murals by international artist, UD students promote discussion

Artist Aurora Sidney-Ando completed her two-month residency at the University of Delaware last semester, but the results of her time on campus continue to brighten walls and windows at James Smith Residence Hall.

Sidney-Ando, a Mexican artist who works as an art therapist and visual artist in Anchorage, Alaska, came to UD through the “Healing Arts” International Artist in Residence program, a partnership between the College of Arts and Sciences and Nemours/Alfred I. duPont Hospital for Children. She worked on projects at the University, the hospital and a community center in Wilmington.

At James Smith on UD’s Laird Campus, about 20 students met weekly with Sidney-Ando to create a series of mural panels. Most of the students were members of the LGBTQ+ and Racial Justice Activism and Visual Arts living learning communities in the residence hall.

The goal of the project, Sidney-Ando said, was to connect people and promote peace and unity through art. With a doctoral degree in humanistic and transpersonal psychology, she focuses much of her work on using expressive arts for healing and social change.

“Large-scale art takes a lot of people,” she said of the mural project. “I wanted to create a nonjudgmental culture of acceptance. Not everyone agrees [on everything], but everyone feels comfortable enough to share opinions.”

The mural itself is made up of four large panels, each representing one of the four elements: Earth, Air, Fire and Water. According to Sidney-Ando, the decision to depict the four elements stemmed from the idea that nature is a healing force, and therefore aligned with the goals of the project.

“When I found out about the project, I was excited because I would be getting to paint with other people,” said Samantha Ford, a freshman art student. “It got even more interesting as people talked about activism.”

Pascha Bueno-Hansen, associate professor for Women and Gender Studies, oversees the LGBTQ+ and Racial Justice living-learning communities.

“The act of coming together regularly over the fall semester of 2017 with artist Aurora Sidney-Ando to create their vision of freedom and manifest this vision through artistic expression in the very place they live marks a space of collective self-revelation, healing and community building,” Bueno-Hansen said. “The University of Delaware has the unique opportunity to build upon this precedent-setting initiative to create more spaces marked by public art that uplift students' visions of peace and social justice."

Kathleen G. Kerr, associate vice president for Student Life and executive director of Residence Life and Housing, said, “This was a terrific opportunity for students to take issues they are exploring in the classroom and connect their minds with their hearts and their hands. The result is an embodiment of concepts they are learning about and I hope we can continue to partner across campus to provide students with more opportunities like this one.”

The Resident Student Association (RSA) funded the paint and some building supplies through its Student Advocacy Grant award. The panel structures were created by the Theater Department, and Residence Life and Housing provided funding for the installation.

During Winter Session and spring semester, the large murals are being displayed in the windows of the ground-floor common room of the residence hall. The sections of wall separating the windows sport smaller panels depicting human relationships with the elements.

Like other residence halls on campus, James Smith is not open to the public. But residents and their guests will be able to view the art and also interact with it though chalkboard panels that are hung around the pillars in the room. The hope is that people will use the chalkboards to express their feelings in response to the mural project.

More about the International Artist in Residence

The “Healing Arts” residence program was launched three years ago by the College of Arts and Sciences (CAS) and Nemours/Alfred I. duPont Hospital for Children. Visual and musical artists in the program spend time on the University campus and at the hospital, lending their talents to special creative activities for students, children, families and staff.

The hospital and CAS collaborate on selecting each artist and deciding how much time that person will spend at each institution. Both organizations say that the diverse cultural backgrounds of the artists have been key to the program’s success.

In Sidney-Ando’s case, she led activities at the hospital for patients and caregivers. Projects, from creating art with shaving cream to designing and making piñatas, were designed “to foster fun, play, creativity, connecting with others and personal resiliency,” she said.

She also worked with young children in a literacy project at the William “Hicks” Anderson Community Center in Wilmington.

With assistance from students in UD’s Associate in Arts Program in Wilmington, Sidney-Ando and other facilitators guided children through the process of writing and illustrating a picture book based on their own experiences.

The six-week project culminated in the publication of “Football, Basketball, Lost at School, Peanut Butter,” with the young authors honored at the annual Literacy Day celebration at the Wilmington Police Athletic League in December.

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