Bringing a splash of color to the community

University of North Georgia 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.
The students signed on to work with the Gainesville Housing Authority (GHA) to organize, design and paint a 9-by-36-foot mural across two white concrete walls at the Melrose Apartments in Gainesville, Georgia.Two UNG Art students interning at the Gainesville Housing Authority (GHA) and will lead 5-6 GHA teens to pain a mural that will be visible inside Melrose Apartments and also along Queen City Parkway.

Vatral, an 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 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.”

When GHA special projects coordinator Jim Chapman, who periodically teaches art at UNG, devised a summer project for Gainesville children who live in the housing units, he contacted Sachant.

Sachant directed Vatral and Mitchell to Chapman, who put the young women to work with the Gainesville children and teens. They guided them in designing the mural, as well as painting it on the walls near a high-traffic intersection.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.

Then, the young women asked the children and teens 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.

Vatral said as the mural evolved other elements were featured, such as a fire truck and a school bus.

Two UNG Art students interning at the Gainesville Housing Authority (GHA) and will lead 5-6 GHA teens to pain a mural that will be visible inside Melrose Apartments and also along Queen City Parkway.

“We put a chicken in there somewhere since Gainesville is the ‘chicken capital of the world’,” she 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 Chapman pressure-washed the wall. Then both women primed the wall and Mitchell sketched the drawing and filled 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 during the project. “And they’ve done the blades of grass. And I’ve told them to do light strokes.”

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

“We told them to try and keep (their brushes) horizontal … but they went back to painting this way,” she said demonstrating a vertical stroke. “Honestly though, they did a good job.”

The children appeared to enjoy the task, despite the 90-degree weather. Luckily, the wall was 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 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.”
The mural officially was unveiled Aug. 2 at Melrose Apartments near the GHA office in Gainesville.Sachant said she was pleased with how well organized Vatral and Mitchell were and how they coped with the rain delays during the summer.

“I think they did a tremendous job,” she said.

She really appreciated how well the students worked with Chapman and acted as good ambassadors for UNG, which can lead to future collaborations.

“I’m really excited that Jim said there are opportunities for other internships and hope we can have an ongoing relationship,” Sachant said.

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.

“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.