School of Art

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.

In early December, 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