AUGUST 1, 2022 — When people drive or walk past the murals of Amerie Jo Garza and Maite Yuleana Rodriguez they are greeted by some of the brightest smiles ever.
They will learn that Amerie Jo loved art and being a Girl Scout and that Maite dreamed of becoming a marine biologist one day.
These are just two of 21 murals in the “Healing Uvalde” project that will memorialize and honor the two teachers and 19 students who lost their lives during the mass shooting at Robb Elementary in Uvalde, Texas, May 24.
“Art heals. It’s one of the practical aspects of art that many people don’t see. I’m talking about all the fine arts such as music, poetry, creative writing, dance—all of that helps heal,” Abel Ortiz ’99, owner of Art Lab Contemporary Art Space in Uvalde, said.
Following the horrific May 24 tragedy, Ortiz—who has a been a part of the Uvalde community since 2003 after becoming a professor at Southwest Texas Junior College—knew he wanted to do something to help the community that immediately embraced him almost 20 years ago.
“The day after the tragedy, I was watching the reports and one of my former art students, Kimberly Rubio, was hugging her husband Felix who was being interviewed and he said, ‘These deaths will not be in vain. These students will not be a number,’” Ortiz said. “That got me thinking how I needed to take some form of action. And as an artist of course, we’re going to think about art first.”
Ortiz wanted to paint some murals on his gallery’s building, but after thinking further, he believed this was something that needed to go across the entire community.
Together with the Collectors of Chicano/Latinx Art and Allies, a group for collectors of Chicano art on Facebook, Ortiz approached the San Antonio Cultural Arts Center to help spread the word of his initiative.
“Once they helped spread the word, I started getting responses from San Antonio and other areas in Texas,” Ortiz said. “Eventually I got a response from Monica Maldonado who runs a non-profit in Austin called MAS Cultura. We brought her on board as a project manager. She had a lot of connections with muralists from all over the state.”
Twenty-one portrait muralists from around Texas, as well as dozens of artists assistants, are coming together to contribute to this project, including several Roadrunners such as San Antonio muralist Ana Hernandez ’17, artist Gabi Magaly ’20 and Alina De Leon, a current UTSA fine arts student and Uvalde native.
“I was working on another mural when Monica came by and gave me and the other muralist her card. She then talked to us a little bit about the project,” De Leon said. “I later saw that Abel Ortiz was involved in it as well, so that’s when I knew I had to reach out to him and let him know I’m not a (professional) muralist, but I’m an artist and I can help in any way possible.”
For De Leon, who once attended Robb Elementary—contributing to this project was something she knew she had to do.
“It’s my community. I walked in that same building when I was a kid,” De Leon said. “I just had to help in some way. I make art and I know art can heal in multiple different ways. I felt if I could contribute somehow, maybe we could help the families ease their pain even just a little bit.”
Each artist was assigned to capture one of the 21 individuals with the blessing of their families, Ortiz said.
“We could not do any of these murals if we didn’t have the blessings of the families first," Ortiz said. "We waited until the last funerals were over to reach out to them. We provided background forms for the families to fill out if they were willing to give us permission to paint. They provided photographs and information on the person.”
The artists then mocked up a sketch, using the forms and photos as a guide, and presented it to the project committee for approval.
De Leon worked with San Antonio muralist Cristina Noriega to complete the mural of Amerie Jo.
“I helped with the dress detail that Amerie Jo was wearing and blocked out colors and just other little parts here and there,” De Leon said.
The mural depicts the 10-year-old in her favorite lavender dress and the bronze cross that was awarded to her posthumously from the Girl Scouts for her incredible bravery in dialing 9-1-1 during the shooting. Amerie Jo is surrounded by sunflowers—her favorite flower—and an artist palette, since she loved art.
The mural of Maite, designed by Hernandez with assistance from Magaly, shows her sitting on top of a stack of books, surrounded by an array of colorful coral reef fish and other sea life. The artists were inspired by a photo of Maite taken by her mother Ana Rodriguez, and the child’s deep love of aquatic life.
“It’s been an honor working on Maite’s mural because I’ve been able to see her family look up and smile at her,” Magaly said. “That is what means the most to me. I just hope this helps them heal in some kind of way and that her memory and image will live on through this mural.
As the artists continue to spend their weekends completing murals, Ortiz said they are already having a heart-felt healing effect on those who see them.
“We had a truck driver and his family stop by the mural of the teacher Eva Mireles on their way to Houston. His wife got off and said, ‘There is light in Eva’s face. There’s a glow coming out of her face that you captured,’” Ortiz said. “It’s that connection to the community these murals will have that will be very much ongoing. People have cried when seeing them. Some of the family members have gone by and cried in front of the mural.”
The emotional connections people feel when they see these murals are where the healing process begins, Ortiz added.
"At the end of the day, I want these students and teachers to never be forgotten and remembered forever,” Magaly said. “We want to remember who they were as an individual before this tragedy. Their families and the community will have a place to come visit them. They will have a place to come eat with them or talk to them.”
The Innovation Academy is an 8-hour online hybrid course designed to introduce faculty to a variety of educational ideas, best practices and resources for becoming more comfortable in teaching in different modalities.Virtual Event
Hosted by the UTSA Department of Government Relations this anel discussion will feature guest speakers and Q&A.Buena Vista Street Building (BVB 1.326,) Downtown Campus
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