June 04, 2009

Artist Gerardo Arias provided this conceptual drawing for the mural project


By Julia Ferrante

LEWISBURG, Pa. – Nicaraguan artist Gerardo Hernandez Arias will travel to Bucknell University June 7 for a month-long residency to paint a mural commemorating 10 years of service-learning projects with the Bucknell Brigade.

Arias, a workshop facilitator and painting instructor at the Batahola Norte Cultural Center in Managua, has designed the mural for a wall at the back of the Craft Center off Seventh Street. He will work with Bucknell art senior Samantha McDonough while on campus, teaching her techniques for creating murals.

With the assistance of a translator, the artist and educator also will give two talks about the cultural tradition of public art in Latin America and about his own development as an artist.

Brigade leaders discussed ideas for a mural at Bucknell when they met with Arias during volunteer trips in January and March in Nicaragua.

"We're really excited because the mural is to recognize a decade of partnership that the Brigade has had in Nicaragua," said Janice Butler, director of the Office of Service Learning. 

The first delegation of Bucknell volunteers traveled to Nicaragua in March 1999 to assist with emergency relief efforts following the most deadly hurricane to strike the Western Hemisphere in the last two centuries.

The mural, which will be dedicated at a reception during Homecoming on Oct. 24, symbolizes a solidarity that has grown between Bucknell and the Center for Development in Central America, the Brigade's host agency. It will depict the initial event and devastating storm that prompted the Brigade to form – Hurricane Mitch, which hit Managua in 1998. It also will include a famous scene of children clinging to a treetop after the storm as well as images that show efforts to rebuild and offer hope to displaced people.

Although the artist has never been to the United States, he has incorporated in the design the university's seal, which includes a sun parting dark clouds and other symbols such as the Rooke Chapel steeple that in the mural will represent a spiritual aspect to the Brigade's work on behalf of impoverished families. The Brigade helped to build and continues to help fund a health clinic in the resettlement community of Nueva Vida, and the mural will reflect efforts to provide access to health professionals and medicines.

McDonough has received a Bucknell Public Interest Program grant to work with Arias. She met the artist during a trip the Batahola Church during a January Brigade trip. She was struck, she said, by the vibrant colors and imagination of his work. The Career Development Center awards the public interest grant to students working in a nonprofit capacity.

McDonough was intrigued about the mural project before she met Arias, she said. A Bucknell Community College Scholar, she had read about the Brigade before enrolling at the University in 2008 and was aware an artist might be commissioned to paint a mural on campus to commemorate the Brigade's 10th anniversary.

In January, McDonough and Brigade leaders met with the artist and discussed the vision of the project. Arias later came up with a design proposal and was selected to paint the mural this summer.

Those who travel to Nicaragua with the Brigade see the desperate and hopeful realities of Nicaragua. McDonough was especially moved by the scenes at the municipal dump in Managua, where an estimated 1,500 families live, scavenging for food and items to sell. She was encouraged by the efforts of a group of women who gave up their jobs in sweatshops to build a spinning factory that will turn organic cotton into thread to support their future livelihood.

As it has for many Brigadistas, the trip to Nicaragua changed McDonough's life path. She plans to return to Nicaragua with her fiancé, Noel Hefele, after they marry in May 2010. She will be studying in England this fall and will begin blogging about her experiences on the Bucknell website starting in August.

The Association for the Arts is providing a grant for the mural project. Donations from the Spanish Department, and Latin American Studies Program, as well as the Alumni Association will also help finance Arias's visit.

Contact: Division of Communications

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