Students paint 80-foot-long mural at housing complex for older adults

Giving back to the community, students from the University of Arizona School of Art painted an 80-foot-long Sonoran Desert mural at a Tucson HUD-funded affordable housing community for older adults.

On Dec. 2, and Dec. 5, a neat, yet empty outside wall at the B’nai B’rith Covenant House, 4414 E. Second St., was transformed into a scene with saguaros, mountains and wildlife created by students in Associate Professor Kelly Leslie’s “Clients in the Community” class (ART 465).

“Bringing in young artists who are enthusiastic about providing visual enhancement to the center is, in and of itself, life-affirming to our senior residents,” said Abbie Stone, co-president of the Covenant Board of Directors. “And inclusion of all cultural points of view in art is important to Tucson as a community.”

Students and Professor Kelly Leslie paint a mural at the Covenant House.

Each student in Leslie’s class presented a design to residents, who voted on their favorite. Valeria Jimenez won the competition, and the entire class assisted her in painting the mural, which includes a roadrunner, coyote, cardinal, lizard, hummingbird, javelina and quail.

“Some of (the residents) said that they wanted to see things that they don’t usually see every day, so I decided to play around with the size of the animals. You don’t see a big quail every day,” Jimenez said in a story by Christa Freer of El Inde Arizona, “UA mural project puts student artists into the community.”

“The residents picked well. Valeria’s design was amazing,” said graduating senior Rachel Gonzales. “This project has been a lot of work, but so much fun. I’m more design track than studio art and illustration, but this has been a blast to get back into painting and help out the residents here.”

Leslie, who chairs the school’s Illustration, Design and Animation program, is an award-winning artist in her own right. She designed the poster “Unity,” which was displayed in the international traveling exhibition, “Posters for Peace,” in Mexico, South Korea and the U.S.

“I encourage my students to engage with and see themselves as part of a regional and global community where their skills can help elevate those communities,” Leslie said. “I’m an advocate of teaching design as a collaborative practice … fostering empathy for the audience of their creative endeavors.”

KVOA-TV interviewed Associate Professor Kelly Leslie. Watch the video

In the “Clients in the Community” class, Leslie and her students produced artwork for three other groups this semester: Morley Arts District in Nogales, Blue Lotus Artist Collective in downtown Tucson and University of Arizona Special Collections.

For the Covenant House, all 14 students met with residents in early September. “Students researched mural art and shared notes on the residents’ interests,” Leslie said. Eight students submitted designs, which were posted in the lobby and residents had a couple of weeks to vote on their favorite design. In the end, all 14 students worked on painting the winning design by Jimenez.

Design proposals were submitted by Gonzalez, Rene Harter, Jimenez, Diana Morse, Ashten Rennerfeldt, Ivan Rodriguez, Sarah Rosales, Aspen Stivers and Maya Wong. Production Artists included Henry Frobom, Jihye Tak and Maddy Tucker.

“It felt great to see the members watch us work. Some of them have even helped us paint,” Leslie said. “They thanked us … for improving their courtyard, so they can enjoy it in the future.”

The Covenant House aims to provide not only housing, but a sense of community – and inspiration – to the residents of the multidenominational living center, Stone said.

“The residents were super-excited about the project; they got to view the artistic process take place, literally, in their own backyard,” Stone said.

B’nai B’rith sponsors the Covenant House, and its board is a non-profit 501(c)(3), where donations can be made via the website. Volunteer opportunities are also available.

More coverage

• Read the University Communications story by Logan Burtch-Buus , “Student-designed mural brings color to a housing community for older adults

• Read the Arizona Jewish Post story by Phyllis Braun, “Art Students, Residents Collaborate on Mural at Covenant House

Mural designs

Eight students posted mural designs for residents to vote on. The winning mural was Valeria Jimenez (second from the bottom).

Teaching artist Campos named Outstanding Senior for fall 2023

Alexis Campos found her passion as a teaching artist and gallery assistant in the University of Arizona’s Art and Visual Culture Education program, where “everywhere I turned there was someone always willing to guide me and share their knowledge,” she said.

And now Campos, named the School of Art’s Outstanding Senior for fall 2023, is sharing that knowledge with children from the Sunnyside Unified School District, where she attended classes while growing up on Tucson’s South Side.

Alexis Campos

“It’s just so sweet to go into the community and work one-on-one with students and show them the ways art can be a part of their lives … and one of the sweetest experiences has been visiting my old elementary and middle schools to teach kids in my own community,” said Campos, who attended Esperanza and Liberty Elementaries, Apollo Middle School, and Sunnyside High School.

Campos works as a teaching artist at the Tucson Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA), where she was honored with the K-12 Impact Award and led a summer camp on puppetry arts as an intern. She also is a gallery assistant at Decode Gallery, engaging the public, facilitating openings, and installing works in the downtown venue.

“Alexis is one of our strongest AVCE students. Her work includes significant contributions to museums and community arts,” wrote Associate Professor Carissa DiCindio in her nominating letter. “Alexis is a leader through her engagement in class projects and assignments in AVCE — and in teaching children through the school’s Wildcat Art program.”

At MOCA, Campos creates lesson plans and teaches in English and Spanish in K-12 classrooms, working with over 450 students each semester in art workshops. Through Wildcat Art, Campos and other AVCE students spent four Saturdays in April teaching K-12 students about art, culminating in an exhibition of paintings, collages, embroidery, clay works and drawings.

Campos became interested in art education while taking her introductory courses at the School of Art. “This is when I came across the AVCE program and learned about all of the amazing things I could do in the world of museums,” she said, “and the ways that I could create change through the arts.”

Alexis Campos works with K-12 students as a teaching artist.

As an undergrad, Campos led a grief and artmaking workshop for Tucson Compassionate Friends and worked as a visitor services assistant and intern at the Arizona State Museum. She created and organized educational activities for students in grades K-5 at ASM, where she also completed an honor’s project in which she designed and led an interactive tour on textiles for her AVCE classmates.

DiCindio worked with Campos for more than a year on the student’s Honors College thesis, which focused on curating an exhibition by Latinx artists in the Tucson community. “Dr. DiCindio’s wisdom, compassion, kindness and expertise opened my mind to the possibilities of what being an art educator looks like,” Campos said.

A thesis show fell through, but Campos said she gained “so much insight” through her paper, which “was a way to capture the things most important to me.”

Besides DiCindio, Campos also praised other instructors in her AVCE journey, including Rachel Zollinger, Hillary Douglas, Raven Moffett, Professor David Taylor and Benjamin Davis. “Without these individuals, I don’t know if my work and academic pursuits would be at the level they are.”

Campos, a member of the Phi Theta Kappa and Tau Sigma honors societies, has received multiple awards for academic excellence, such as the Dean’s List with distinction, the Honors Thesis Award and Brown Honors scholarships.

She will receive her BFA in Art and Visual Culture Education, Community and Museums, and plans to continue working for both MOCA and the Decode Gallery.

“I intend to take a much-needed year off from college,” Campos said, “and apply to graduate school to receive my MFA in photography.”

Alexis Campos takes a photograph for one of her undergrad projects.

Senior Agrella receives prestigious Centennial Achievement Award

Senior Grayson Agrella, a triple major in Art History, Anthropology and French whose research interests center around the gender non-conforming community, has been named a Centennial Achievement Undergraduate Award recipient — one of the highest honors a student can achieve at the University of Arizona.

Agrella, who will graduate summa cum laude with honors in spring 2024, is being recognized by the Dean of Students Office at a luncheon at Old Main on Dec. 5. He’s only one of two undergraduates to receive the award, given annually to students who have demonstrated significant contribution, accomplishment, moral character and integrity among the community.

“Grayson is one of those rare intellects … who has impressed the Art History faculty with the depth of his passion for the arts and his achievement in every class,” wrote School of Art History Professors Irene Bald Romano and Paul Ivey, who nominated Agrella for the award. “He has made a strong commitment to LGBTQ+ rights and issues — profoundly expressed in his research.”

In Romano’s “Topics in Museum Studies” class, for example, Agrella wrote about how museums have historically interpreted and displayed works by queer artists or LGBTQ+ topics, and how innovative exhibitions could change the cultural dynamic. And in Romano’s “Art as Plunder” class, Agrella explored how art dealing with homosexuality or the AIDS/HIV crisis was unfairly targeted in the 1980s while the LGBTQ+ community suffered unparalleled losses.

Agrella is committed to helping trans youths and has volunteered at camps for transgender children and their families. His Honors College thesis focuses on the types of activist engagement of trans youths — and how that impacts their perceived well-being and feelings of belonging in their communities, internalized negativity and negative health outcomes.

Grayson Agrella

“I plan on going to graduate school after some work experience, and plan on pursuing something akin to queer anthropology,” Agrella said. “Lately I’ve been investigating visual anthropology programs, as they require a lot of skills such as visual analysis that I’ve learned as an Art History major.”

For the last two years, Agrella has worked at the Center for Creative Photography as an archival assistant, handling and rehousing archival materials, supervising researchers, and assisting with the digital archiving of images. In 2021, he worked for the U.S. Department of State as an agent in the Passports Division, which demanded “deep sensitivity to individual claims and individuals under stressful circumstances,” Romano and Ivey wrote in their nominating letter.

Agrella “regularly engages with mutual aid efforts, including those benefitting the unhoused community and other social justice causes in which he believes, the Dean of Students Office said.

“Grayson is the embodiment of the values associated with the Centennial Achievement Award,” Romano and Ivey wrote. “He has demonstrated outstanding persistence and integrity in his unwavering pursuit of excellence in his academic work. He has contributed significantly to the well-being of the community, especially trans youth, and he embodies the University’s strategic goal of valuing and supporting the diverse experiences of our students.”

Agrella, who carries a 3.971 GPA, was a National Merit Finalist and National AP Scholar at Tucson’s University High School, where he honed his literary gifts and became the Poetry and Prose editor for the Carnegiea Literary Magazine for the youth of Southern Arizona.

He talked more about his college experience in an interview with the School of Art:

Q. How rewarding, or challenging, has it been to juggle three majors?

A. I’ve found my experiences in all my majors to be eye-opening in different ways; I love studying art as a universal human experience, as well as how it becomes part of larger machinations, and anthropology has given me a more expansive understanding of many of those processes. Through the French program, I’ve been exposed to different cultures which has likewise made me analyze parts of my own culture that I took as givens — I love escaping the America bubble.

Q. How did you get interested in Art History, and what makes it special to you?

A. I initially chose Art History as a major after taking the AP in high school, and because I come from a family of artists but can’t see myself having a professional practice. Everyone has their own relationship to art — however high- or low-brow it may be — and I’m fascinated by how those relationships are influenced by a cacophony of outside factors. Art History, for me, is a material way of understanding snapshots of the human experience. The material focus still necessitates addressing abstract concepts at play, even if they involve global power dynamics or political motivations.

Q. What advice would you have for first-time undergraduate students at the university?

A. I would say branch out. Explore. I’ve found the School of Art to be what you make of it; there are so many ways to get involved — academically or otherwise — with whatever you’re passionate about, and if you feel something is missing you can make it happen yourself. And, you know, the usual things: Make connections with professors, figure out how to feed yourself, show up to class. And lean into whatever makes you a little funky and fun.

• Learn more about Centennial Achievement & Senior Awards

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