Dennis Nagelkirk

Mural, Painting, and Art Education Project with African Refugees and the African Center of Grand Rapids

My Summer Scholars project is an Art Education project involving the African Community Center of Grand Rapids.  The main goal was to design and create a large scale mural covering the 60' wide 2-story building using elements of rural African lifestyles.  The project also entailed creating an Art-based ESL (English) class for the refugees.

Our first few weeks was spent getting to know Yaka Kamungi, the director of the organization, and the families that he helps.  We were brought around to meet the refugees over the course of a couple of weeks.  We wrote about our experiences in detailed logs which we emailed out to friends, family and prospective volunteers.

Along with fellow Art student, Carrie Schoenborn, we created an Art-based ESL class and headed up the programming for the Center.  We purchased a variety of Art supplies and using pictures, colors, and activities we were able to teach English lessons using a creative, hands on approach.  The refugees, called "clients", would come in regularly to learn English and to pick up food, and have Yaka translate their mail and bills.

Over the course of the month, myself and other artists, would draw characters to compile in a landscape mural suggesting the journey which the refugees have taken.  The mural is a sort of narrative landscape with the left side of the building depicting rather universal, iconic, rural African lifestyles.  As the eyes pan to the right, the narrative slowly shifts to Grand Rapids, complete with big city skyline and freeway overpass.  The entire scene will be peppered with characters interacting and existing in everyday situations.  While the left part of the narrative will focus on general African lifestyle themes, the right side will focus on all cultures-- a comment on the beautiful melting pot of cultures in Grand Rapids.  This mural is meant to promote an optimism for the ever changing cultural make-up of West Michigan.

We are videotaping the experience as it unfolds and will likely compile the elements into a short documentary which we can use to publicize our efforts and promote the Center.

Faculty Mentor: Ed Wong-Ligda, Art and Design


Page last modified July 14, 2009