UAA art students and professors work together to tackle difficult topics

by Michelle Saport  |   

UAA art student Katherine Massong paints a portrait for the ACE's Mural Project.

UAA art student Katherine Massong paints a portrait for the ACE's Mural Project

Steve Gordon, an adjunct professor of painting, has designed several projects in his beginning painting classes in which groups of student work together to paint murals that depict difficult topics such as the opioid crisis, sexual assault, and the Syrian refugee crisis.

What is unique about these undertakings is that the students work closely with members of the community who have been affected by a social crisis in order to bring a greater understanding of the subject matter to the paintings.

In 2016, Professor Gordon and his students put together a show at Beans Café Homeless Shelter called "Unseen - Seen." The exhibition consisted of large scale portraits of members of Anchorage's homeless population. The paintings are tender and sensitive depictions of people who face adverse circumstances on a daily basis with toughness and resilience.

During this fall, the beginning painting class and artists within the community began the ACE's Mural Project, which is focused on the correlation between Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE's) and addiction. Seven murals were painted, each depicting a recovering drug addict's life story. Individual artists and teams of artists paired up with an ACE "guest" and had a conversation about their life. The ACE guests talked about what happened to them as children, how they got into their addiction, where their addiction took them, how they found recovery and what they are doing currently to deal with the stresses of life in a healthy way.

UAA art students and portrait subject present final artwork for ACE's Mural Project

UAA art students Arlitia Jones, Sutton Moore and Pam Butcher, joined by ACE guest Tara and her daughter Neveah, along with UAA art students Nancy Perry, Torie Jarocki and Claire Faulker present their finished portrait for the ACE's Mural Project.

One of the teams who worked with a guest named Tara stated, "Most of us had no experience with Street Art or making murals of any kind so we were working with unfamiliar tools while trying to tell a complex and powerful story. We were learning new techniques and mediums. We began with picking a color palette and a central image and soon found ourselves standing in front of blank panels, unsure what marks to make first. We opened our hearts and felt our confidence grow large enough to fill a 6'x10' panel. We found courage in Tara's words and in the miracle of her survival."

Professor Gordon said, "It is my hope that the murals will shine a light on ACE's and how childhood trauma can lead to addiction. In addition, I hope to those in currently living in addiction to find hope that their lives can be different."

Three of the completed murals are now on display on the second floor in the Fine Arts Building.

You can read about local artist David Pettibone and his work on the ACE's Project at the Anchorage Daily News.

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