A TAPESTRY OF CULTURAL NARRATIVES

By Marina Gomberg, associate director of communications and marketing, College of Fine Arts

The University of Utah Special Topics Art Class led by  V. Kim Martinez unveiled and dedicated a 1,500-square-foot-mural to Esperanza Elementary School, 4956 W. 3500 South, on Dec. 11. In attendance with Martinez and her students was Esperanza principal, Eulogio Alejandre, the school board, parents and students.

The mural, collaboratively created and painted by Martinez and her students, honors the rich cultural heritage of the school’s almost 98 percent Latino student body. Together, they created a Muraltapestry of cultural narratives that reflect the interests, curricula, identities and loves of the students who inspired the mural’s many themes: chess, sugar skulls, soccer, mountains, mariachi bands, sunflowers and folklorico dancers. However, the importance of the project goes far beyond vibrancy and color.

“The goal of art and social justice is for communities to have agency over how art represents them,” Martinez said.

Esperanza Elementary, a Title I Language immersion Charter School in West Valley City, specializes in creating inclusive educational spaces that serve and empower underrepresented children from vulnerable socioeconomic backgrounds through praise rather than criticism.

Alejandre, who serves as principal for the school, sees the mural as culturally and socially empowering.

“I never wanted to be in a school that tolerated culture,” Alejandre said. “I wanted to be in a school that celebrated culture. With this mural, we are letting kids know that their culture is valuable.”

The ongoing project is part of a capstone class offered by Martinez that focuses on the public politics of art, along with encouraging artists to become invested in public funding projects and the myriad of processes those projects entail. But most importantly, the class allows students to experience first hand how art impacts and benefits the lives of people who, at times, feel excluded from the artistic community.

It is Martinez’s personal viewpoint of art, however, that perhaps best encapsulates the power of this project and class: “Art is a right—not a luxury.”

For more information about the University of Utah Department of Art & Art History, please visit: art.utah.edu.