Artists from Dominican Republic Collaborate with DCCC Community to Create Murals in Lexington, Thomasville

Oct 29, 2012 – Several visiting artists from the Dominican Republic left a lasting impression on Davidson County – quite literally, thanks to a unique mural art project, “Roots: Social Histories through Murals.” The project was a collaborative effort between the Global Leadership Institute and Davidson County Community College.

The talented group of five artists, which included Héctor Blanco, Máximo Ceballo, Ezequiel Soto, Carlos Veras and Freddy Alcántara Ramírez, worked tirelessly along with students from DCCC, instructors and area artists to create a colorful pictorial message that captures the history of Davidson County.

DCCC students, faculty and staff further assisted the artists by collecting short video interviews that gave descriptions of the history of Davidson County. The artists, along with the DCCC campus community, then painted larger than life interpretations of those messages onto two sites – The Uptown Lexington Center, located at 4 East 1st Ave. in Lexington, and The Thomasville Education Center, located at 305 Randolph St. in Thomasville.

The outcome of the murals was nothing short of remarkable. The artists intertwined their Caribbean flair into the art, leaving a vibrant and brilliant representation of Davidson County history and a vision toward the future.

Uptown Lexington

The mural in Lexington depicts an old water tower located near downtown and includes a line of people walking up to a crumbling brick factory on the left side. The central image is of two hands. One hand is receiving, and the other hand is giving. On the right side, two women are depicted dancing, expressing joy and hope for the future. The image also is a parallel to the power of women.

Thomasville Education

The mural in Thomasville depicts the past with people working in textiles, tobacco and furniture. The future is represented through the figure at the top leaping through a computer screen to grasp a book. The hope for the future is in technology and education.

The project was made possible through funding from a grant through the National Endowment for the Arts, and was started three years ago by Dr. LeAnne Disla, from the Global Leadership Institute and Duke University, as a “Stories through Murals” project with Durham Public Schools. This year, the project expanded to community colleges, and DCCC was selected as one of the partners.

Suzanne LaVenture, director of international education and instructor of Spanish who has been instrumental in the project, notes that a lot of teamwork was required to bring the project to completion.

Dr. Mary Rittling

“DCCC faculty, students and community members spent months gathering oral histories, then spent more time extracting the themes and ideas,” she says. “It’s an experience that I’ll always remember.”

LaVenture adds she speaks Spanish, and was able to communicate with the artists quite well, and learned about their individual motivation, style and personality. “It was truly amazing to watch how they collaborated,” she says. “I can look at the mural and see the bits done by each individual and yet still be impressed by the cohesiveness of the mural as a whole.”

But the language barriers were never a problem throughout the week of painting, LaVenture adds.

“We held a workshop with the students and artists before painting began so the artists could get a better sense of the community,” LaVenture says. “As Máximo Ceballo, one of the artists, said ‘Art is a language of its own.’ People can communicate their stories visually, working side by side. … It was truly incredible to be a part of a real-life process that resulted in fantastic works of art that will endure for years to come.”

DCCC students and even another international artist – Giovanni Pietrobon, from northern Italy, also came to help with the project. The Italian artist, who is staying with local artist Jim Moon – where the artists from the Dominican Republic also stayed during their visit, joined the artists and worked alongside them throughout the entire week.

“When I heard that I could be a part of painting with well-known artists from the Dominican Republic, I jumped at the opportunity,” says Kasey Newark, DCCC student. “Being able to paint with them was such an amazing moment to experience as an artist.”

Another student, Richard McDaniel, notes that while he is studying electrical engineering, he found the art project to be enjoyable. “I enjoy learning about cultures and languages,” he says. “It was a great experience for me.”

Members of both the Thomasville and Lexington communities also found the mural project to be rewarding and valuable. Joe Bennett, mayor of Thomasville, stopped by to visit the project throughout the week and presented the artists with a “City of Thomasville” pin.

Donnell Griffin, DCCC psychology faculty member who has also been instrumental in this project and began working on it last year, had the opportunity to visit the Dominican Republic along with Jon Foster, a faculty member in the English Department at DCCC. She and Foster met many of the artists prior to their visit to Davidson County.

“I had the chance to see many of the murals they painted in the Dominican Republic, and I got really excited about the possibilities here in Davidson County,” Griffin says.

When the murals were both finished, Griffin was delighted. “The entire experience was interesting and rewarding,” she says. “The murals are beautiful and I am very proud to have been a part of their ‘birth,’ but the best part for me was hearing the stories from the people who built this county. Having the chance to listen to people from all walks of life around the county was a real gift. The stories from these people have added new life and perspectives that will carry on through the walls of these buildings.”

Bios for the Dominican Republic artists:

Freddy Alcantara: Freddy Alcantara studied at the School of Fine Arts in his village school in Altos de Chavon, graduating cum laude. Today he is dedicated to painting and sculpture. He works for the Ministry of Culture as a National Artistic Training Specialist and is a professor of fine arts. He is also a founding member of MARHMI.

Hector Blanco: Hector Jose Blanco was born in Salcedo, Dominican Republic in 1972. He completed his studies of art in the Ateneo Hermanas Mirabla, in his native city, and then enrolled in the National School of the Arts (ENBA) in Santo Domingo. From there, he graduated as a Professor of Visual Arts. He is the president of MARHMI (Movimiento Artistico Hermanas Mirabal), an organization that is building community through the arts – engaging, interactive, vibrant, expansive and inclusive – a collective artistic movement originating from “Las Hermanas Mirabal,” a province in the Dominican Republic, about the size of a small U.S. county. Founded in 2009, after the development of one of the Caribbean’s largest muralist project (including more than 400 large, inspiring murals painted throughout the province), a group of approximately 200 artists came together under the leadership of Hector Blanco.

Maximo Ceballo: Maximo Ceballo studied at the National School of the Arts (ENBA) in Santo Domingo. From there, he graduated as a Professor of Visual Arts and has been teaching drawing at the same institution since 2002. He has made more than 30 solo and group exhibitions and has exhibited his work in several U.S. states. In addition, he has participated in the “ROOTS: Social Histories through Murals Project” for two years at 11 North Carolina sites.

Ezequiel Soto: Ezequiel Soto was born in San Juan de la Mag in the Dominican Republic in 1979. He studied at the extension in San Juan de la Mag. of the National School of Fine Arts. He then entered the School of dis. Altos de Chavon. Ezequiel is known as one of the best Dominican portrait painters and muralist. He has painted multiple murals both in the Dominican Republic and Durham, N.C. He is a founding member of the artistic movement Hermanas Mirabal (MARHMI).

Carlos Veras: Carlos Veras was born in Salcedo, within the province of Hermanas Mirabal in 1982. Carlos studied at the National School of Visual Arts in Santiago (EBAS). He currently works from his own studio and is an integral member of the mural project in the Dominican Republic. He has had exhibitions in the Dominican Republic, Germany and North Carolina and has painted murals in five sites in the U.S.

Bio for the Italian artist:

Giovanni Pietrobon: Giovanni Pietrobon was born and raised in the city of Treviso in northern Italy, and graduated in sculpture with top honors at the Academy of Fine Arts in Venice. Always attracted to sacred art, he has produced various works related to this topic for churches in the province of Treviso, Venice and abroad. Many of his secular works, always figurative, have been exhibited in private galleries and in Venice's Academy of Fine Art at the 51st and 53rd Venice Biennial exhibitions, and in Torino during the 54th Venice Biennial Exhibition.

Founded in 1963, Davidson County Community College is noted for its quality educational programs and services. As one of 58 institutions within the North Carolina Community College System, DCCC offers studies in more than 50 degree programs. A fully-accredited, multi-campus college, DCCC will celebrate its 50th anniversary in 2013. It is committed to developing minds, inspiring imaginations, and preparing students for enhanced career and educational opportunities within a changing global environment. Visit Davidson County Community College on the Web at davidsonccc.edu.