Heritage through art
Published 3:42 pm Sunday, August 24, 2014
AHOSKIE – A giant art mural covering an entire wall in the Student Center at Roanoke-Chowan Community College (RCCC) was unveiled Monday as part of the opening of the fall semester and everyone from the painters to the president hope this is just the beginning.
“We hope we can paint one per semester,” said college Fine Arts Department chairman Jim Messer, who was also one of the painters.
The mural is the first of a collective involving RCCC, the Hertford County Arts Council, the Ahoskie Historic Preservation Commission, the Ahoskie Chamber of Commerce, and the Chowan Discovery Group.
“We’re hoping to use art as a force for economic development,” said Discovery Group director Marvin Jones, a Cofield native and entrepreneur in Washington, DC. “We also think it will add to the cultural enhancement of tourism in our area.”
Earlier, Jones appeared with Ahoskie Chamber of Commerce director Amy Braswell before the Town Council promoting what they’ve called the Ahoskie Mural Project, a series of paintings depicting the area’s history.
“Because of the delicateness of some of the walls we would use to display the artwork, we hope with some of the future murals to paint them on canvas panels and then mount them on the walls,” Jones said.
The RCCC mural shows off the various curriculums offered at the college leading up to its many degree programs. It was begun in June and finished earlier this month with just two painters: Messer and Marvin Ryan, a welding instructor at the college and one of Messer’s art students.
“We wanted to do one here at the college to show off the art talent that we have here in the local community,” Messer related. “We chose something technically easy since we were both teaching for the summer and there were only the two of us working on the project.”
“This mural is just the pilot project,” Jones contends. “We feel this artwork allows the community to see that locals can do murals and when completed that they represent something wonderful. It may be several years before they catch on, but they let folks know about the great art talent we have right here in Hertford County.”
RCCC president Dr. Michael Elam, on hand for the unveiling, said he granted permission early on for the project; and is hopeful the ones that are proposed for other sites in the county will attract business, industry, as well as tourism.
“We picked the Student Center here because so many students utilize the facility for everything from our cafeteria, campus safety office, to the student lounge,” said Elam. “It’s also strategically located where it will be well exposed facing the courtyard where everyone who passes by can see this wonderful display.”
Though RCCC programs from nursing to paramedic training to law enforcement are displayed on the wall, Elam says this mural is still a ‘work in progress’.
“It represents 99 percent of the courses we offer at the school,” he said. “As we expand and grow here at the college we want to show them all.”
Elam considers the mural as a giant promotion for the college.
“It shows how we impact the community through learning,” he expanded. “It illustrates the directions that can be taken and what our students can engage in.”
Jones hopes that other murals, including two smaller ones that have been completed: one honoring native son Robert L. Vann on Academy Street and another in Harrellsville, will turn Hertford County into a “mural mecca”. He has found several local businesses that have pledged support for future paintings.
“I especially want to thank Jamie Johnson of ACE Hardware, Lewis and Gayle Mizelle of Mizelle’s Discount Drugs, and Brenda Velasquez of Mug Shotz coffee shop,” Jones said.
The Chowan Discovery Group wrote the original proposal for the murals and will oversee the Mural Project’s budget, maintenance, and themes.
“We have great possibilities here in creating something new and varied,” Jones emphasized. “This is something we can build on that adds to Ahoskie’s downtown.”