A 1,000 foot mural is being designed by the Coon Rapids campus art department and students with guidance from Greta McLain of Good Space Murals. The project was pitched by Rachel Breen, an instructor in the art department, and McLain. The duo say they are trying to help create a larger sense of community at the college through a mural that will represent the backgrounds of everyone attending the school.
“The bigger goal of the project is to start introducing alternative ways for students to get to know each other, and bridge over all of our differences that can be easy to see and focus on. And find ways to actually connect with each other and be stronger for it,” McLain said.
The process will be long, but McLain is making sure that as many students as possible are involved along the way. Student–run workshops are helping to create safe spaces on campus where students can share their stories and find what it is that makes up Anoka-Ramsey’s community.
“It’s a great opportunity just for students to work with [McLain], and I needed to create a way for students to work with her,” Breen said about the workshops. “And it didn’t really make sense for them to be assistants. I really wanted them to participate in helping to run the workshops and helping to lead the painting process. It just kinda evolved in a really organic way.”
All the student leaders have different stories as to how they joined the project. Chii Vue said they were personally asked to be a leader in the project because of their experience and Oksana Swafford thought it would just be a good use of her time. Other students like Kelvin Gbahn had a more unique path to join the project.
“I was in the art department but I was doing my own thing individually and I didn’t know that I could kinda help influence and get involved like that,” Gbahn said. “They kinda asked me to jump in, and it went on from there.”
These students, among others, have been leading their peers in exercises designed to increase comfort levels on campus and help transform the environment on campus. Students were led through exercises to help them share their life stories. McLain’s goal of helping communities discover their similarities and grow together shows through her desire to get rid of what she calls the “shiny social media life.”
“A lot of students are experiencing challenges, and the campus story of who is here, a lot of people share very similar narratives, like ‘I found a good education, and it’s affordable,’ and ‘I’m the first in my family to go to school!’ But there’s also the challenge of ‘I have three jobs, and I’m super stressed all the time,’ and ‘I’m dealing with depression,’ or “English isn’t my first language,” McLain said. “We live in a day of social media and the shiny social media story is the only one that’s acceptable. And we’re also living in an age of so much depression and loneliness.”
McLain’s Good Space Murals is founded on the principle of using murals to help communities grow together by creating together. Breen has a slightly different view on the project.
“I’m not going to say what it means to the school. I think that’s what we’re doing right now. We’re doing these workshops and reaching out to all the parts of our community to kind of figure out how we understand our sense of community,” Breen said.
Workshops will continue in class through the rest of November and December and the mural painting will begin in March. The tentative unveiling is scheduled for May 7, 2020.