May 11, 2006

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Public masterpiece
Muralist brings his community art talents to Manchester

By Heidi Masek hmasek@hippopress.com

Art can be a powerful tool for communities, according to results that Roberto Chao has had leading community murals. In Boston he’s led groups of troubled teens, single mothers, even a group of farmers who fled El Salvador.

In Manchester, Chao has just led the Currier’s Open Studio students in creating their own mural depicting history and culture in Manchester. It was unveiled May 8 and hangs on the Union Street side of the Boys and Girls Club of Manchester.

In Boston, Chao said he’s “working in tough communities,” and the murals are often meant to help a community heal from and prevent violence so the goal is different. “But, the process is the same,” Chao said.

Laura Raymundo, 15, of Central High School explained that creating the mural for her meant working with new people who came from the other high schools and the Art Center as well as the Boys and Girls Club. They spent about a month trying to decide what to include, and went through many sketches before settling on one to submit to the Boys and Girls Club for approval.

“To me, this is the most difficult part, this is a collective process,” Chao said.

Many of Chao’s community murals are composed of several pieces of plywood so that the shape of the mural can be part of the symbolism. This one has several jagged edges and odd angles. A Boston one was cut to be a giant jigsaw puzzle.

Open Studio at the Currier Museum of Fine Arts Art Center is a free visual arts program that allows high schoolers to use a supervised studio. Chao is the artist-in-residence.

Chao, who received his M.F.A. from the School of Fine Arts in Mexico City, started the 12-week program by having the students research Mexican muralists for inspiration. The history of New Hampshire, as well as the history of the Boys and Girls Club, is also represented.

“Roberto also had the students incorporate words that they felt described themselves into the mural,” Linn Krikorian, Open Studio coordinator, said.

The Boys and Girls Club is at 555 Union St., Manchester. Other examples of Roberto Chao’s community murals are at robertochao.com.


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