California students showcase rural communities through public murals

March 07, 2018

A note from Author Ann Schulte, PhD:
Faculty and staff at California State University, Chico have been working very hard over the past few years to re-energize our connections to our 33,000 square mile region. Our hub partner, North State Together, has helped us in that effort. Our goal is to leverage CSU, Chico students, staff and faculty in reciprocal and interdisciplinary partnerships around self-defined issues of the North State communities. The university would like to increase the number of students coming from rural communities as well as better prepare them to take their new capacities back to their hometowns if they so choose.

At California State University, Chico, students in Professor J Pouwels’ Public Art Murals course are learning about how to take their art skills to rural communities. “Art is the best way to understand a culture. The history of art closely parallels the history of human kind,” Pouwels said. “Working with our partners in the North State, we hope the murals we create will reflect the faces of those communities.”

In addition to some local sites around Chico, the art students will design and paint murals for the communities of Corning, Los Molinos, and Oroville. Two of the murals will be in Tehama County library branches.

Tehama County Librarian Todd Deck is very enthusiastic about the partnership. In February, he visited the murals class and talked with students about the county’s resources and its residents. A small group of students presented their proposed images to the class and they agreed upon one that would represent the community well. Deck says, “I believe that libraries are reflections of the communities they serve and the students in the class have embraced this. Although the work the class will be doing will make the physical space of the library more beautiful, ultimately this project is about celebrating and giving back to the community.”

The image selected for the Corning site was designed by Studio Arts major, Ryan Ramos (at left, with Todd Deck [right]) who also just happens to be from the small town. Ryan developed a love for art while growing up in Corning, population 7,500. The town is known for its strong olive industry. Ryan says he had great art teachers all through high school, even taking an art history class, which he knows is not something every high school student gets to experience.

While in college, Ryan has been working as a studio assistant with a local ceramic artist based in Corning. Ryan says, “It's a small community where you know everybody. Some of the best people I know come from this little town, so it's kind of special. I’m excited to give back and get involved with my community through art.”

The art students in Pouwels' class learn about funding public art as they engage with community members in search of donated materials. Students also learn how to collaborate with local partners to develop a theme that has appeal to everyone. One of those collaborators is Alyson Wylie, a project manager for the Center for Healthy Communities (CHC) at Chico State. One mural is covering an entire exterior wall at a local market on Highway 99. Wylie invited Los Molinos High School (LMHS) students to assist with the design of the project. “The CHC regularly works with LMHS to share nutrition education and support their students in agriculture and leadership activities. It’s been a pleasure working on behalf of the CHC to make the community connections that have made this huge project possible. And as a Tehama County resident myself, I look forward to seeing the mural on my daily commute.”

The murals class is being offered as a result of Professor Pouwels’ interest in developing partnerships in rural communities. The class gives the students opportunity to apply their learning in a real world context while connecting with the surrounding region. Several of the students in the class are from the communities where they will paint and it’s a special opportunity for them to share their views of their home communities and educate their classmates about the North State.

California State University, Chico, is one of our Northern California Hub partners. To learn more about our partnership and read about the rural engagement work being done in the northern region of the bear flag republic, please see our hub site profile page. Thank you to our advocate and hub contact Ann Schulte, PhD, for her submission of this feature.

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