Healing Uvalde: Community Healing Through Art
In the wake of the mass shooting at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas, 21 portrait artists have transformed Uvalde’s downtown, painting buildings in bright colors and smiling faces to create 21 murals. The murals, which are a part of the “Healing Uvalde Mural Project,” honor the lives of the 19 children and two teachers who were killed on May 24, 2022: Nevaeh Alyssa Bravo, Jackie Jaylen Cazares, Makenna Lee Elrod, Jose Manuel Flores Jr., Eliahna “Ellie” Amaya Garcia, Irma and Joe Garcia, Uziyah Sergio Garcia, Amerie Jo Garza, Xavier James Lopez, Jayce Carmelo Luevanos, Tess Marie Mata, Maranda Gail Mathis, Eva Mireles, Alithia Haven Ramirez, Annabell Guadalupe Rodriguez, Maite Yuleana Rodriguez, Alexandria “Lexi” Aniyah Rubia, Layla Marie Salazar, Jailah Nicole Silguero, Eliahna Torres, and Rojelio Fernandez Torres.
Celebrate the Day of the Dead with us, reflect on this project and remember the lives of those who died.
On the idea for the Healing Uvalde Mural Project
The idea for the 21 portrait murals came from Uvalde resident Abel Ortiz, an artist, art professor at Southwest Texas Junior College, and founder of Art Lab, a local art space. “I thought it was going to be one mural,” explained Ortiz. “No, you know what? I’m thinking twenty-one murals. ...It needs to be monumental. It needs to be across town, and not just in one place. And so, the idea was born.”
At the same time, future collaborators, psychologist and art collector Dr. George Meza and Monica Maldonado, founder of MAS Cultura, were thinking about how art could benefit the community. Before the portrait murals, Maldonado had worked with artists to complete three “Uvalde Strong” murals. Soon after, Maldonado and Ortiz were connected and Maldonado joined as Project Manager. Dr. Meza and Abel were already in contact and the three joined forces on the mural effort. Dr. Meza spearheaded their fundraising efforts to raise more than $30,000 through his Facebook group "Collectors of Chicano/Latinx Art and Allies." Together the trio made the idea of 21 portrait murals a reality and actualized the Healing Uvalde Mural project.
The mural project centers on healing and remembrance. The organizers’ priority was to promote healing within the families, for those who survived the shooting, and across the close-knit Uvalde community. As Ortiz recalls “The idea [is] to heal, at least to begin healing, to cope with the tragedy, or begin to cope with it, and to pay tribute, and to always remember the victims as a remembrance.” To make the project a reality, Ortiz began by securing walls for the murals and the three organizers selected artists based on Maldonado’s recommendations.
Organizers waited until the last funeral was completed before approaching the families for their permission to participate in the project and worked closely with the families throughout the process. Families were asked to provide a list of their loved one’s favorite things and images they wanted to feature. Once permission was granted, Maldonado paired each artist with a subject. Maldonado had experience building a community arts organization. For her, it was crucial that the project have full community and family support. She explains, “One of the really important things with project managing murals for art and communities for me is place keeping, and with place keeping, you can’t just show up in somebody’s town and be like, ‘Oh, I’m here to create.’”
Discusses place keeping
On working with the families
On Mural Interaction
From July to August 2022 artists came to Uvalde, toiling in the hot sun and rain, night and day to bring each portrait to life. During their time in Uvalde, artists made connections with families and even involved them in the process.
For some artists, painting the mural was a collaboration between themselves and the families. “To me that’s the only audience that matters, above all else, is not myself, it’s not viewers that come from all over. It’s the family members and to make sure that they feel that their child’s presence is there in that mural,” explains Tino Ortega. Collaborating with the families allowed the artists to humanize the victims, bringing their personalities, likes, and likeness to the forefront.
As public art, murals are always available to the community. They remake space and they create a space for the community to meet, converse, share, and remember. Families have staged cookouts at the murals, children have hugged the murals of their classmates, and neighbors have shared coffee with their friends. The team plans to preserve the murals in perpetuity, to ensure families and friends have a place to remember and visit those who were lost. Maldonado says, “The recurring idea was, ‘we’re never going to go to the school...the cemetery's sad, so this gift that you have given us to be with our loved one’ ... and we just kept hearing that and I don’t think Abel and I imagined the profound impact these murals would make"
Describes how the murals are different than other memorials
Today 22 faces grace the walls of Uvalde. The downtown area is now a colorful celebration of lives lived while remaining a reminder of lives lost. It is an experience made more powerful when visiting Uvalde and walking from mural to mural, seeing the small details; hot sauce on ramen noodles, a heart bracelet charm, that tell the stories of the victims. Ortiz says, "I'm hoping that this will not be the end of the story, but again, it'll be retold, and retold so we can't forget the children and not only remember the children's lives and celebrate their stories but also the families that each one has."