The East Bayside Community Mosaic Mural, a community art project led by University of Southern Maine Artist in Residence Muhsana Ali, was co-sponsored by the USM School of Social Work, the USM Art Department and by Portland-based business Coffee By Design. The community art project has gained attention for its inspirational attempt to bring a diverse community together.
Ali's goal for the project: unite the "human family."
"A lot of people in this community feel maybe they are not a part of this community because they are new immigrants," Ali said in an interview with WCSH 6 TV. "There are a lot of people who come from other places in the U.S. as well."
East Bayside was chosen as the site of the mural due to its diversity. By providing an opportunity for all members of the community to come together and create, Ali believes it will form a greater sense of unity.
"Just having this piece here will help to make people in this community feel more a part of this community," mentioned Ali.
Ali also sees the mosaic as a way to let Maine's immigrant community know they are welcome.
"This piece has served to help them feel like they are included. That it belongs to them, as well as everyone else who is here."
Mia Bogyo, a 2016 Art Education graduate, sees Ali as an inspiration. She jumped at the opportunity to help her alma mater contribute to the project, recognizing a rare chance to work with the Senegal-based artist.
"There's an amazing diversity in this area, and a lot of wonderful people that I've been able to meet and connect with," said Boygo of her experience.
Since the project launched in mid-September, community members, along with USM students, faculty, staff and alumni, all made their way to Coffee by Design's East Bayside location to add their contributions to the community piece.
"This is really awesome," said Kaitlyn Arnold, a graduate student in the School of Social Work. "Rather than just focusing on art, it has to do with community and bringing community together."
Gerstenblatt's students were responsible for outreach efforts, with the goal of bringing all members of the community together to contribute a piece. Gerstenblatt looked to Arnold to help lead the effort due to her interest in art therapy.
The project has provided Social Work students the opportunity to work hands-on with the public, something Arnold finds helpful.
"At first, I think we were all a little nervous to do outreach, we really didn't know what to expect, but we've had such a positive reaction," Arnold mentioned. "In a social work sense, it's really helpful."
Michael Shaughnessy, professor of sculpture, brought students in his intro to sculpture class to contribute to the piece. He sees it as an important opportunity for students as it allows their work to cross over into the public.
"The most exciting element is that it's out here, on a street, in a neighborhood," said Shaughnessy. "It enlivens that space, and brings people together through its making."
Gerstenblatt originally brought Ali to campus in 2014 to discuss a similar project Ali worked on in Mart, Texas. Carolyn Eyler, director of exhibitions for the USM Art Galleries, was in attendance for the presentation and said it was a "no brainer" to invite Ali back as an Artist-in-Residence.
Eyler's been looking to extend USM's Artist-in-Residence program out into the community. She saw it as a way to bring diverse groups, both inside and outside of USM, together to create as one.
"Bringing USM students, faculty members and community members all together, seemed like a great way to involve USM in the community," Eyler said.
For more information, people can follow the East Bayside Community Mosaic Project on Facebook.
To view coverage from WGME 13 TV, click here.
To read coverage from The Forecaster, click here.
To read coverage from the Portland Press Herald, click here.