Student artwork elevates campus

Senior Breana Mahoney admires a piece of art in the Neil Britton Art Gallery.

Laila Jones|Marlin Chronicle

Within the walls of the Neil Britton Art Gallery nestled in the Hofheimer Library, a breathtaking transformation has taken place. What once was a simple gallery space has now become a vibrant tapestry of student creativity and collaboration, culminating in the Marlin Mural Festival, which was presented on Thursday, March 7.

Initiated by Professor John Rudel, the festival has become a sanctuary of creative exploration for over 60 students, transcending the confines of traditional academia to embrace the raw essence of artistic expression. 

“This project allowed student artists a venue to express their creative voices in a professional setting,” Rudel said.

For Britni Arrington, a senior double majoring in Psychology and Art, the festival serves as a canvas for introspection and self-discovery. 

“Art is not just a hobby but a means of personal expression and self-discovery. I wanted to do a self portrait project for the class, since I love drawing people and thought I’d use a subject I always have access to,” Arrington said. Her contribution to the mural—a series of images chronicling her journey to embrace her natural hair—speaks volumes about the power of art to illuminate the complexities of identity and self-acceptance. 

“Growing up in a PWI [Predominantly White Institution] I never saw a lot of people that looked like me, so I tried so hard to fit in with the long straight-haired, fair-skinned girls around me. Little to say, I never succeeded,” Arrington said. “After killing my hair from a perm for 10 years, I did a big chop and hated my appearance for like four years. My piece shows my ‘bald boy,’ Afro, locs and box braid phases of learning to take care of my natural hair.”

The festival’s impact extends beyond personal narratives, transcending boundaries of discipline and expectation. Eun Ko, a senior business major, found herself unexpectedly drawn into the world of mural artistry through her drawing class. 

“It was a surprise because I didn’t expect to do a mural project,” Ko said.

Inspired by her travels and observations of art galleries, Ko’s piece delves into the symbiotic relationship between artwork and audience, blurring the lines between observer and observed. As Ko recounts her journey of bringing her vision to life, one can’t help but marvel at the convergence of diverse perspectives and talents within the festival. 

“My idea started with that point—that this is an art gallery,” Ko said. “Without those artworks, my piece doesn’t have meaning.”

Students, faculty, staff and guests at the Marlin Mural Festival on Thursday, March 7 in the Neil Britton Art Gallery.

John Rudel|Courtesy

When asked about his inspiration behind the festival, Rudel said, “The Marlin Mural Project/Festival allowed student artists a venue to express their creative voices in a professional setting, and also provided an opportunity for them to have a ‘model’ experience of the professional practices required to be a mural artist.”

The Neil Britton Art Gallery played a crucial role in providing both funding and a professional venue for the mural. With support from the university, the project garnered attention from local news outlets, further amplifying its reach.

Looking ahead, plans are already in motion to continue and expand the Marlin Mural Festival. Rudel envisions future iterations of the festival, potentially extending beyond the VWU campus to redefine public spaces in the community.

As the festival continues to captivate audiences with its beauty and depth, the voices of students like Arrington and Ko echo through its halls, each brushstroke a testament to the resilience of the human spirit and the boundless potential of artistic expression. Through countless hours of dedication and perseverance, students have transformed the gallery walls into a tapestry of shared experiences and individual revelations.

Amidst the symphony of colors and emotions, one thing remains abundantly clear: within these walls, the Marlin Mural Festival becomes a reflection of the human experience itself, forging connections that defy boundaries and redefine the very essence of creativity.

By Daniela Angeles Galvan