It was a warm fall morning at Lafayette Park in Central Fresno as representatives from Fresno State and Fresno City College, students and the community gathered to celebrate the completion of a mural started by the late Fresno State professor Dr. Paulette Fleming. As people gathered in a large grassy area, a black plastic tarp hung along the fence at the back of the tennis courts behind a photo of Dr. Fleming on an easel.
Around 10:30 a.m. on Saturday, November 2, attendees followed the sound of a single djembe drum in a procession from the festival on the grass to the tennis courts. Following an opening prayer and with a roll of the drum, students who worked on the project lowered the veil to reveal a bright and playful mural that spanned the 260-foot length of the wall behind the tennis courts.
The mural, a mix of child drawings and silhouettes of anonymous professional athletes, is reminiscent of the “Pee Chee” school folders of years past, giving a playful contrast of children as they are now and what they dream to be.
“This project was the brainchild of Dr. Paulette Fleming, a visionary artist, and teacher who left a legacy of community like no other,” said Dr. Saúl Jiménez-Sandoval, Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs at California State University, Fresno.
Dr. Fleming, through her Partners-in-Art organization, worked with children at the Lafayette Park and Community Center in collaboration with the City of Fresno and The Way Ministries…John 14:6.
“When she started working on that… she was trying to bring the kids in have them work on it too, but at the time Lafayette Park was, and kind of still is, in a rough neighborhood,” said William Raines, Fresno State art lecturer. “She felt is was too precarious for the youngsters to be involved.”
While the children helped with the design, Dr. Fleming spent two years painting the wall by herself. After her death, her former colleague Raines took up the project. He also worked alone in applying paint to the wall.
“It took me two years to realize I could not do it by myself,” said Raines. “I said, ‘I need to get back into her mindset and make this a community project.’”
Raines enlisted the help of Fresno City College lecturer Kevin Steward-Magee and Fresno State art teacher Adam Longatti along with student volunteers from both colleges. In addition, Steward-Magee was able to offer an additional mural painting class at Fresno City College whose sole project was the Lafayette Park mural.
“This opportunity came up to finish something that [Flemming] had started and I thought that was absolutely worth it,” said Longatti. “So I had Fresno State students completely volunteer their time when they could. And then I was out here most Saturday and during the week.”
Raines was also able to raise funds for supplies from the College of Arts and Humanities, the Fresno State Department of Art and Design, and The Way Ministries.
Using Dr. Fleming’s schematics, Steward-Magee divided the mural into sections so that every Saturday, a small army of students and volunteers would descend on the park and work on their part.
“Dr. Fleming gave us a great gift in this amazing design, and the opportunity to share this with each of you,” said Steward-Magee as he addressed the crowd at the unveiling.
In all, it took over 80 students and volunteers three semesters to complete the project.
Following the unveiling ceremony, the community returned to the lawn for an afternoon of live music, food, and fellowship.
Against the cold concrete, a warm canvas invites neighbors to come enjoy the sunshine and children to dream of possibility.
Dr. Paulette Fleming was a nationally-recognized professor of art and design at Fresno State who dedicated herself to reaching out to youth in the community with art projects.
She joined the Fresno State faculty in 1988 and was the first recipient of the J. Eugene Grigsby Award for meritorious service to art education by the Committee on Multicultural Affairs of the National Art Education Association. She also was co-founder and executive director of the Partners-in-Art youth program, which was selected to be one of 25 university projects nationwide invited to present at the 2012 Smithsonian Folklife Festival. The program was honored for its dedication to educating central San Joaquin Valley youth in art through the “Hungry for Art/ART FOR HUNGER” project.
Dr. Fleming was instrumental in coordinating Kwanzaa events for children and youth at the Martin Luther King Square Apartments in West Fresno as part of the Saturday Art Workshop series.
“Dr. Paulette Fleming dedicated her life to teaching art. To know about art allows you to get a glimpse of what is important in society. All throughout the ages, artists represent what is important to them,” said Dr. Jiménez-Sandoval. “Dr. Fleming’s legacy to me is this: create art so you get to know yourself. Create art so you get to know your world. Create art so you can interpret your world. Create art so you can become the leader of your world.”
Tom Uribes contributed to this story.