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Students paint murals in community

Students in a pair of visual arts courses this spring gained valuable experience painting murals in the communities near UNG.

Students in a pair of visual arts courses this spring gained valuable experience painting murals in the communities near the University of North Georgia (UNG).  

Stephanie Leyva, Alexis Phillips, Grace Witkowski, and Joanna Zwemke painted a "Discover Dahlonega" mural on panels that will be displayed in downtown Dahlonega, Georgia. They completed the project as part of a class with Vivian Liddell, assistant professor of visual arts, in partnership with Dahlonega's Downtown Development Authority and Main Street Program. 

Hannah Hutkowski, Tyler Williams, Lyndsay Jackson, Jessica McCall, Jennifer Morris, Sarah Sanders, and Daisy Vial crafted a pair of murals at the Avita Community Partners Behavioral Health Crisis Center in Gainesville, Georgia. Their work was part of a course with Erin McIntosh, associate professor of visual arts.  

"This is experiential learning at its finest," Jennifer Graff, department head of Visual Arts, said. "The collaboration between students, instructors and community partners provides real-world skills beyond the classroom that end up benefiting everyone involved." 

Liddell said the mural opportunity could be a foot in the door to a lucrative industry, as murals commissioned by cities can often be jobs that pay in the tens of thousands of dollars.  

Students in both classes each created multiple potential designs and took part in a feedback process with the community partners to decide on the final designs.  

The Dahlonega mural project incorporated multiple aspects, including mountains, flowers, tourism, and UNG. Zwemke, a senior pursuing a degree in studio art, is scheduled to graduate in December. The Dahlonega, Georgia, resident said this project is helpful as she approaches her career. 

"I really enjoyed the process. I hadn't worked on any kind of public art before, but I really enjoyed creating something I knew everyone around town would see," Zwemke said. "I learned about working with a client, understanding what they want and trying to depict it." 

Phillips, a senior from Dahlonega, Georgia, pursuing a degree in art with a concentration in digital arts, also noted the collaborative process with a client helped her grow as an artist. Painting alongside her mural partners was meaningful, as well.   

"Working with this group of people has been one of the most enjoyable things that I've done. It's been a very rewarding experience," Phillips said. "The problem-solving skills really helped me as an artist." 

Ariel Alexander, Dahlonega’s downtown development director, was thankful for the students creating a mural that will be a vibrant presence in Dahlonega. 

"The Downtown Development Authority is so fortunate to have University of North Georgia students in our community who are eager to help invest in downtown beautification efforts," Alexander said. "This mural will serve as a representation of not only that partnership but an encapsulation of everything that makes Dahlonega and Lumpkin County so special. From the agritourism industry to our gold history, the students truly told the story of our beautiful city and beyond."

The mural project at Avita included a purple and orange array of colors depicting birds flying toward a sunrise in a meal room and a sunflower right by the door where patients exit the facility after receiving services. The Behavioral Health Crisis Center is an emergency behavioral health care alternative. It provides persons with an acute behavioral health problem with prompt action, gentle response and effective support in a respectful environment.  

Hutkowski designed and led the painting of the sunshine and clouds mural at Avita. The junior from Buford, Georgia, is pursuing a Bachelor of Fine Arts in visual arts with a focus in digital arts and studio art. She enjoyed the chance to network and also to grow her communication skills while working as part of a team. 

"All artists dream of inspiring the world with their work," Hutkowski said. "Having your art somewhere that people can be inspired and have their perspective on the world change, that's more important than anything else." 

Williams designed and led the painting of the sunflower mural at Avita. A senior from Acworth, Georgia, pursuing a B.F.A. in visual arts with a focus in painting, Williams had previous experience painting murals at Petco. The teamwork on this project allowed him to expand his skills, and he plans to eventually attend graduate school. 

"This experience is going to be very helpful. I want to teach at either a high school or a college when I graduate," Williams said. "It's a very good experience to be able to work with other people and be a team. It gives you a feel for all different sorts of people." 

Cindy Levi, CEO of Avita Community Partners, was glad for the second year of the mural partnership with UNG. 

"We are thrilled with the designs the students created this year," Levi said. "It was a group effort."