Painting a Community Mural: Q&A with KellySue Fitzharris

Aquinas Center in Philadelphia, a great friend of the Ampersand, has partnered with the Mural Arts Program to create a mural on a wall of the Center’s South Philly campus. There was a community paint day this past Saturday, and my wife Gen and I headed over to check it out. We thought we’d be up on ladders, but the process is, thankfully, a lot easier and safer. The artist behind the mural, Delia King, drew the outline of the shapes in the mural with a black marker on huge panels of fabric and numbered all the sections. About 140 volunteers showed up to “paint by number.” Delia will clean it up a bit and the panels will then be rolled onto the wall. Here’s a shot of the process:

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It’ll look something like this digital mock-up:

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St. Thomas Aquinas Parish, where the Center is based, is home to an extremely diverse community of Catholics, including folks who are Vietnamese, Indonesian, Latino, Filipino, Anglo, and more. Fabric patterns from the different cultures come together to compose the mural. Delia talks about the process in an interview here.

One of the first painters we saw when we arrived was our friend KellySue Fitzharris. Kelly lives in Blackwood and teaches Spanish and religion at St. Rose of Lima School in Haddon Heights. She’s all-around fantastic. We joined her at the panel she was working on and caught up.

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After the day, I shot Kelly a few questions about her experience.

Q: What was your favorite part of the experience?

A: Well, aside from the overall coolness of participating in painting an inner city mural which I had never done before, I think the idea of partaking in a creative effort among various cultures to beautify and unite the community was just awesome.

Q: Meet any inspiring people?

A: YES! One young adult who I was painting with had recently returned from two years in China with the Peace Corps. She was stationed in a super rural part of the country and chose to live there with only one fellow Peace Corps volunteer so as to immerse herself more fully in the culture. Being passionate about other cultures myself, I thought her intentions and experiences sounded inspiring!

Q: Did anything surprise you about the painting process?
A: I was surprised at how simple it was! The Mural Arts Program makes it so that even children and first-time artists can paint and it looks great. It was also cool that [Delia King] was there, walking from table to table, helping us, explaining, just being very approachable and seemed so happy to be able to prepare the mural for us.

Q: What is the coolest thing about a mural at Aquinas Center?

A: Well, the mural itself is vibrantly colorful and beautiful with various symbols of the distinct cultures that make up the surrounding community. It has many coolness factors: It is rich and loud, delicate and deep.  I think it will fill the onlooker with awe and intrigue, hopefully draw in the passerby and continue to stand as a sign of the beautiful paradox of cultural diversity and unity, a little beacon hope and light right there in South Philly.

2 comments

  1. Lea

    I think it’s wonderful how people are getting together for such a wonderful outcome. I was at St.Thomas Aquinas for a long time and it’s great to see how far it’s come since my teaching days. It will always be a special part of me and it’s always endearing to see how people keep the spirit alive there. Best of luck in all of your endeavors!

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