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Art students, community band together to create murals

Students in Valerie Aranda's mural painting class work on the collaboration.

Two girls hold hands, spinning in circle.

Peacock feathers burst from a novel.

A well-dressed, pointy-eared rabbit sits atop a stack of books.

The three colorful scenes appear in a recent mural, installed on the side of the Georgia Writers Museum in downtown Eatonton.

“The partnership began with our students displaying their artwork in downtown storefronts,” said Valerie Aranda, professor of studio art at Georgia College. “That started a conversation about community art and community-based projects. We started thinking of a way to bring art to Eatonton and making it more of a highlight of the city.” 

Aranda’s class began working on sketches for the Famous Authors mural, which depicts three renowned local writers: Joel Chandler Harris, Alice Walker and Georgia College alumna Flannery O’Connor. Putnam County High School (PCHS) students in Paige Barlow’s art class also set to work on their interpretations.

“What I see the benefit as is getting art in the community, getting kids exposed to having their art out there and giving back to the community,” said Barlow, visual arts teacher, fine arts department chair and Georgia College alumna. “I think the best benefit is being able to collaborate with the college and bridge that gap between high school and secondary education.”

A PCHS student works on the historical timeline of

GC and PCHS students worked together on designs that were eventually combined into three composite sketches. Gail Vail is the vice chairman of Artisans Village, an artists collective in Eatonton dedicated to revitalizing the arts within the city. Vail’s design, which combined elements from each group’s sketches, was chosen for the mural.

PCHS students have also worked with GC students on another mural, set to be unveiled in late May. That mural depicts a timeline history of Eatonton—from Rock Eagle to Lake Sinclair and Oconee.

Vail says the murals play an important role in the future of the town that once bustled with economic activity. With the loss of Horton Homes, Georgia Power and the decline in dairy farming, Vail said it’s time for Eatonton to rise again.

“I think it’s going to draw some attention that there’s a lot of things happening in Eatonton, especially in the art areas,” said Vail. “I think when people drive through and see these murals, it’ll catch their eye, and they’ll tell other people about what’s going on downtown.”

Junior Tanvi Lonkar works on the Famous Authors mural.

Junior Tanvi Lonkar, psychology major with a minor in art, has worked on both murals, and she believes in using the power of art to bring community spaces alive.

“You don’t realize when you see a mural, that it’s having an impact on you,” said Lonkar. “People look at it and pass by it everyday. It has an impact on what you think about the community. As an artist, to make this happen for people in a community is awesome.”

Aranda teaches the mural class every year, and she’s partnered with local communities before. As both a practicing artist and educator, she understands how GC students and the greater community benefit from art.

“It provides something very unique, and I think it’s worth sharing—not just for artists, but for everyone,” said Aranda. “It benefits students in a lot of different ways especially Georgia College students.”

Aranda said that Georgia College students have the opportunity to see beyond themselves when working on community-based projects. In the process, they use everything they’re learning in the studio and put it to practical use.

Barlow shares Aranda’s vision for her art students as well. She sees this as a chance for her students, some of which have lived in the town their whole lives, to give back.

“They’re going to feel part of this space and leave a legacy in Putnam County by  sharing what they love about it,” said Barlow. 

Diana Gutierrez, a senior at PCHS, wants to go into psychology and art in college. She’s has high hopes for the mural in its ability to teach others within the town untold history.

“When people see this, they’re going to see the timeline and the impact of what’s happened in Eatonton. Hopefully they’ll understand how we became what we are today, and we have so much history.”

Bringing art to community spaces also has the ability to change an ordinary stroll, into an experience, said Aranda.

“It’ll bring light to the role art plays in everyday life,” said Aranda. “It’s not just art class or what you might see in a museum. It’s actually something that can have an impact on someone’s everyday life.”

The Famous Authors mural will be unveiled on Friday, April 21 at 3:30 p.m. at 108 S. Madison Ave. Eatonton, Georgia.

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