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USM's Gerstenblatt featured by magazine for community-building work in Texas

Paula Gerstenblatt

Paula Gerstenblatt's work leading a community-building project in the small, Central Texas town of Mart was highlighted with a detailed feature story in The Utopian, the magazine of the Steve Hicks School of Social Work at the University of Texas at Austin.

The story described how Gerstenblatt was inspired to work in Mart after visiting its library and discovering a historical exhibit that highlighted only the white population of the diverse community.

“Her visit to the library sparked a three-year, art-based community project that incorporated African Americans into the display, stirred civic action among Mart residents, brought university students and international artists to the town, triggered multiple initiatives and programs, and eventually became part of Gerstenblatt’s dissertation," reads the magazine story by Andrea Campetella.

“I need to be out there making stuff happen, looking at things from a social justice perspective, and organizing people and building capacity,” Gerstenblatt told the magazine. “That’s my way.”

Gerstenblatt is currently an assistant professor in the University of Southern Maine's School of Social work. She earned her doctorate from the Texas school in 2013.

For one of the project's components, Gerstenblatt secured funding and arranged for Senegal-based artists Muhsana Ali and Amadou Kan Sy to visit Mart during three summers.

“They led community members in the construction of the murals, which are made with pieces of broken tiles, cut mirror, objects, and an under-glass painting technique traditionally found in Senegal," story went on.

In 2016, the USM School of Social Work, the USM Art Department and Portland-based business Coffee By Design co-sponsored the East Bayside Community Mosaic Mural, a community art project led by then-USM artist-in-Residence Muhsana Ali. With students and community members, Ali created the mural near the intersection of Fox and Anderson streets in Portland's Bayside neighborhood.