A week ago, students taking the Lyceum's Mural Making Workshop carefully painted the finishing touches on supersized plankton and a wise-looking whale, bringing their mural camp to a close with a beautiful final product. Thanks to Amanda Bensel's vision and instruction, the students were able to move from the theme (the ocean) to the design of the mural, and transfer that design to a much bigger canvas without fear. We took the time to interview Amanda and get her story to share with you.
A graduate of the Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterey in the International Environmental Policy field, Amanda started her journey with murals in Nepal. "Honestly, making murals started sort of by accident for me," she reveals. As a Peace Corps volunteer, she was given the opportunity to create something like a "wall of hope" as a way to follow up on a screening of a film about women's empowerment that she promoted in her community. "As an artist and designer, I wanted to create something that would be more bold than [typical walls of hope that feature hand prints]; I felt like the walls of hand prints that I'd seen lacked the graphic power to grab the casual street-walker's attention. So I designed a women's empowerment mural, vetted the concept with a few female leaders in the community, found a wall I had permission to use and secured paint donations from a local paint shop. And -voila!- my first community mural was born."
The success of the event and mural rapidly snowballed, and I ended up creating six more community murals in Nepal over the next 7 months. By the end, I had a tried-and-true method for community mural creation. Anyone can participate! Having both local input on design concepts and then community members doing the majority of the painting felt like a wonderful gift to the community--helping them to create images to both add beauty to their own community and spread important messages.
Why is making murals important? To answer this question, Amanda quotes the famous artist Diego Rivera: "Painting on the walls of public buildings is the highest form of art because it [makes] art accessible to everyone." Murals present an amazing opportunity to simultaneously add beauty to a community and raise awareness around important issues or stories," Amanda adds.
Because of Monterey's proximity to the ocean and how important the ocean has become in this era of climate change, using the ocean as a source of inspiration and central theme for this mural seemed quite natural and obvious. In addition to painting different aspects of ocean life, the students learned about the different dangers the ocean faces. "When discussing the importance of the ocean, the threats to it, and what we could do to better protect it, one students was spot on with a lot of policy ideas that I've heard about in my International Environmental Policy course in graduate school," Amanda recalls. "I was so happy to hear her spout these ideas as if they were obvious--because they are! She gives me hope for the next generation of environmental warriors."
To learn more about Amanda Bensel and her work be sure to check out her website here.