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UNG students bring splash of color to mural project in Gainesville

GHAmural
UNG art student Melanie Mitchell shows 5-year-old Junior how to use his fingers to paint on a mural. Mitchell and Michelle Vatral are interning at the Gainesville Housing Authority (GHA) with the purpose of creating a mural visible to residents of Melrose Apartments.

University of North Georgia (UNG) art students Michelle Vatral and Melanie Mitchell, like many college students, were searching for an internship to fill a graduation requirement. Little did they know their search would result with one tall order.

Both UNG seniors signed on to work with the Gainesville Housing Authority (GHA) to organize, design and paint a 9-by-18-foot mural on a white concrete wall at the Melrose Apartments in Gainesville, Georgia.

Vatral, a 21-year-old art marketing major, was eager to work with GHA, which manages and operates the public housing program.

"One of my personal interests for a future job is to work with a nonprofit," the Columbus, Georgia, native said.

Mitchell, a 21-year-old studio art major, climbed aboard the project as the painting expert, and Vatral was glad she did.

"I'm not too experienced with painting," Vatral said. "Melanie has more paint experience."

Mitchell quickly added that Vatral has the organizational and time-management skills and other talents needed for a project of this scale.

"Michelle is good at talking to other human beings," Mitchell said with a smile, referring to the young children and teenagers in the GHA.

Pamela Sachant, UNG Visual Arts department head and internship coordinator, agreed.

"Melanie is a little shy … and a very strong painter," she said. "I knew Michelle was interested in large art projects, and she likes working with kids."

Therefore, when the art project arose with the GHA, Sachant directed both UNG seniors to GHA special projects coordinator. He put the young women to work with the Gainesville children and teens. They guided the Gainesville students in designing the mural as well as painting it on the walls near the intersection of Pearl Nix Parkway and Queen City Parkway.

And it was no easy task.

"For the first two weeks, we were planning and brainstorming," Mitchell said, explaining the mural's focus was to incorporate elements signifying home, growth and community.

Therefore, the young women asked the children and teens who arrived at GHA's office at 750 Pearl Nix Parkway a few simple questions.

"We asked 'What does home mean to you? What does community mean? What do you like about living in Gainesville?'" Mitchell said.

The children's answers were then incorporated into a mural draft. Those elements were sketched on pieces of paper, and the mural started taking shape. Details emerging for the mural were Lake Lanier, the north Georgia mountains, the bridge over Jesse Jewell Parkway and Gainesville's skyline.

She also said as the mural has evolved, other elements will be featured.

"We will put a chicken in there somewhere since Gainesville is the 'chicken capital of the world,'" Vatral said.

She also said another student mentioned the police as an element of the city.

"So we will add that and a fire truck and school bus," Vatral said.

With all of the ideas on hand, Mitchell and Vatral started the laborious project of prepping the wall and outlining the mural. The college students along with GHA special projects coordinator Jim Chapman pressure washed the wall. Then both women primed the wall followed by Mitchell sketching the drawing and filling in the first round of colors.

 A few of the children picked up paint brushes and slapped on a green color at the base of the wall.

"And we had them do the flowers with their fingers," Mitchell said, pointing to the right-hand corner of one wall. "And they’ve done the blades of grass. And I've told them to do light strokes."

For the most part, the children have followed directions well, Vatral said.

"We tell them to try and keep (their brushes) horizontal … but they do go back to painting this way," she said demonstrating a vertical stroke. "Honestly though, they are doing a good job."

The kids appeared to enjoy the task, despite the 90-degree weather. Luckily, the wall is shaded by nearby trees.

At one point, Vatral showed 11-year-old Adrian how to blend a dark green color with a lighter color and create a gradient or fading effect. The Gainesville boy then swiftly picked up his brush and followed Vatral's example.

"I'm having fun," he said. "I'm really enjoying it – the painting and the mixing."

Chapman, who instigated the project with UNG, was pleased with the results. He said this project and others are geared toward helping the children dream bigger than a destiny of living in public housing.

"The mural is an exercise in dreaming in public," he said. "It's looking very nice. I can't wait to see it when it's finished."

The mural officially will be unveiled at 2 p.m. Wednesday, Aug. 2, at Melrose Apartments near the GHA office in Gainesville.

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