Art Student Shares Firsthand Experience of Intergenerational Mural Project

ECA mural student project studio

California College of the Arts, through ENGAGE: Mural Arts, a Diversity Studies course and community engagement program of  Center for Art + Public Life, has brought together art students with a group of elders from Mercy Retirement & Care Center to create mural panels that will be installed in the community in mid-December. We spotlighted the intergenerational project in a recent article, but we also wanted to hear about the project from a student’s perspective. In this guest blog, Neha Dharkar shares her experience. Neha will graduate in May 2018 with a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Individualized Major and Minor in Writing and Literature.

From cave paintings to art on the wall across the street, murals have been a part of the public space and community for years and years. Murals have the ability to represent universal messages and the communities that bring those messages and their stories together.

That is what California College of the Arts’ Mural Art class intends to do with the murals being created for Mercy Retirement & Care Center. Together, a class of 16 will be creating seven murals that will be displayed in Mercy’s designated dining area.

For me personally, I have not had much experience with painting, let alone murals. I was nervous as to how this process would work, but I was excited! I had no idea where these murals would be placed and who we would be making these murals for – everything was a mystery to me. But, it’s safe to say I could not be happier with the residents we got to meet at Mercy.

Dr. Erin Partridge from Elder Care Alliance came into our class to give us a brief overview of the Mercy community. From the way Erin briefly described the residents and her wonderful relationships with them, I knew this would not only be a learning experience for me within the skills of the class, but an opportunity to learn more about the community around me.

My grandparents are tough cookies, but I feel they are the people I have the most insightful conversations with, so this is the mindset I went in with and left with. I did not know what to expect going into Mercy for the first time because this would be the first retirement center I would ever step into. I had only seen retirement centers on television and within our family and family friends; the concept of a retirement center was not even a thought that came to mind. However, going in with my mental montage of retirement center scenes from movies and television shows, I was both thrilled and perplexed as to how our first meeting with the residents would go.

I remember our first meeting almost felt like a first day of class. Everyone goes around the room and says their name, a fact about themselves and what they are interested in. Then, the protocol was to usually break into smaller groups and talk more in depth, which is exactly what we did. Within our groups, we discussed the residents’ favorite activities, a little bit about their personal history and current interests and hobbies.

In all honesty, the discussions were hard to steer at first, but as the conversation went on and common interests kept intertwining, I got lost in the time and was in awe when our conversation had to abruptly end. It was important for each of us – and as a class – that if we intended to make murals for such an uplifting community, we had to get to know one another and not just make the murals for them, but about them.

We had a chance several weeks later to present our crafted designs to the residents and several folks from Elder Care Alliance. We got lots of feedback on a wide variety of aspects of the designs and some more feedback along the way from Erin and residents as we kept going with these murals.

Before I even know it, it will be time to install and present these to the residents and I could not be more overjoyed about our work and the wonderful community we have had the privilege to be able to meet and collaborate with.

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