Mural, mural on the wall: Artist, students celebrate culture with Boca Raton High campus fresco
Updated: Aug 11, 2021
FOR YEARS, IT WAS just a plain wall, 12 feet by 11 feet of concrete at the base of an outside stairwell, all but invisible to the thousands of passing students headed to class at Boca Raton Community High School.
That would change on June 28 when international artist Georgeta Fondos and students from the school’s Latinos in Action program showed up at the nearly-empty campus on summer break.
They brought scaffolding, a roll of graphite paper and cans of paint.
Lots of paint, actually. A rainbow of chi-chi Sherwin Williams colors — “showstopper” (red), “caviar” (tan), “argyle” (green), “lemon twist” (yellow), “honorable blue,’’ to name a few.
Over the next seven days, one brush stroke at a time, the plain wall came to life in bursts of color.
Images slowly emerged: Two students in graduation gowns. A pink flamingo. Musicians playing bongos, trumpet and guitar. The outline of South America.
Before long, the once-dull wall was turning heads. Janitors, football players and summer-break passersby stopped to offer Fondos compliments as she worked from her art-studio-on-scaffolding.
By July 7, the corridor at the base of the stairwell had transformed into something special, a vibrant mural the school hopes will serve as a unifying beacon of Latin cultural pride for generations of students.
An unveiling ceremony will take place on Aug. 6.
“It is absolutely spectacular,’’ said Dr. Suzanne King, the school’s principal. “It’s so beautiful.’’
It’s just the beginning.
Three more walls, at the bases of three other outdoor stairwells across campus, will be covered with culturally-themed murals later this year and early next year as part of a project spearheaded by teacher Andrew Sloan.
The next mural will feature an African American theme, followed by an Asian-themed mural and a European-themed piece.
Just as the Latin mural was done, the others will be designed and painted in a collaborative effort driven by Boca Raton High School students from those cultures under the direction of Fondos.
The project grew from discussions earlier this spring by nine seniors in the school’s inaugural Latinos in Action class, which celebrates diversity and inclusion.
Their enthusiasm for a Latin mural spawned an obvious idea.
‘‘Why don’t we do a mural for each culture?’’ Sloan said, recalling the thought process at the time.
Originally pegged for a wall in the cafeteria, LIA students and school officials were so inspired by the first design that they decided to put all four murals outside on the stairwell walls.
“The murals will inspire students when they walk down the hall and see themselves represented,’’ Sloan said.
“The art is all about trying to create moments of conversation for students to get to know each other a little more.’’
The project is starting to blossom at a time of racial reckoning in the United States. The deaths of unarmed Blacks at the hands of police, racist violence against Asian Americans and strict immigration policies to build a wall at the Mexican border have stoked fear and division.
The mural project at Boca Raton High School is sending a message of hope and inclusion.
“It speaks to how we really embrace the different cultures,’’ King said.
More than half of Boca High’s 3,200 students are white. Hispanics make up 31 percent, African Americans 9 percent and Asians and other cultures 7 percent.
“We celebrate the differences because that's what makes us all unique,’’ King said. “It’s really going to be nice for students to see it and say, ‘I relate to this. This is about me. This about my culture.’’’
Murals depicting mascots and athletics can be found at public schools across Palm Beach County. At Hidden Oaks Elementary School, students recently completed a mural celebrating hope and happiness.
But school murals about culture and diversity are not common, Sloan said.
“Most schools are reluctant to do any type of mural like this,’’ he said. “To have something that really celebrates culture, not only one but four, in this way is something that's very unique.’’
Inclusion and diversity are important themes for Fondos, too.
Based in Coral Springs, she was born in the Republic of Moldova, a landlocked Eastern European country between Romania and Ukraine, when it was still part of the Soviet Union.
At the age of 11, she enrolled in a seven-year specialized art boarding school where she honed a passion for drawing and painting. She won art competitions and soon adopted the sfumato style inspired by Leonardo da Vinci, whom she counts among her favorite artists along with Filippo Lippi.
Inspired by her mother’s work as a seamstress, she expanded her work to include textile arts. She earned degrees from the Academy of Fine Arts of Moldova, followed by a Post-Graduate Study Scholarship to Greece before immigrating to the United States in 2003.
In 2008 she graduated from the Florida Atlantic University with a Master of Fine Arts and launched a career that would focus on public art commissions.
Today her work is displayed in private collections and public galleries at the Boca Raton Museum of Art, Brevard Museum and Coral Springs Museum of Art.
Her work can be seen outdoors, too, in 20 different public murals across South Florida — from a terrazzo floor design in the Lauderhill Performing Arts Center to a street painting outside the Riviera Beach Community Garden.
“What I like about public art is it’s art for everyone to see and engage with it,’’ said Fondos, who teaches at Broward College in Davie.
The Boca Raton high school mural project marks the first time she has collaborated with students on a public commission.
“I wanted to create a mural that is very optimistic and a bit fun,’’ she said.
“I hope the students will start a dialogue and conversations about their countries and teach each other about their countries based on the murals’ content.’’
She is giving the school a discount for all four murals, which will cost about $12,000.
She held two Zoom workshops this spring with the Latinos in Action students, who took the lead in developing and designing the first mural with ideas for images.
“It was amazing to know how much they know and love about their countries,’’ Fondos said.
When it came time to paint in early July, Fondos took the lead with help from students Sylvana Velez, Josue Hernandez and Giovane Sloan, who each picked up brushes and helped paint the background.
“The design captures what Latinos are,’’ Hernandez, who graduated this spring, said as he painted the blue gowns of the two students in the mural.
Hernandez won a Latinos in Action scholarship that he will use to attend Palm Beach State College, an accomplishment that brings pride to his parents.
His father, a native of Nicaragua, “had to hide in holes in the ground while gunshots and bombs were going off” during wars in the late 1970s and 1980s, he said.
His mother, from Mexico, was one of 17 siblings who lived in an old train wagon. She met her future husband at a church in Miami.
“They made me who I am today,’’ Hernandez said.
He pulled his brush back for a few moments to admire the mural, with its vibrant American flag extending behind the shoulder of the male student.
“I feel like people don't understand our culture. We know this country has a lot of opportunities other countries don't have,’’ he said.
“I think this mural represents why we want to come to the United States and why we want a better life.’’
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