Tell me a bit about your background. 

Rese: I went to Durham School of the Arts. After high school, I took a gap year and went to Appalachian State University to study biology. I took a few semesters off in the middle of all of that, which is kind of how the mural project started.

Emma: I went to high school out in Hillsborough, Cedar Ridge. I studied art history and Spanish studies at Bard College in upstate New York, and I currently work at Duke Gardens. Rese and I were next-door neighbors growing up—that’s how we met.

How do you feel the COVID-19 pandemic affected the creation of the mural project?

Rese: I moved back home to the same street I grew up on. I was living with my parents during that lockdown period. Emma also came down, so we were next-door neighbors again. A lot of people were struggling to feel connected to others and to the community and it showed us how important community is. 

I’d had this idea to put a mural on that wall. A year and a half later when the pandemic hit, I was like, “maybe this is something that could actually happen.”  A lot of people were doing incredible work to make art more visible and make the community more seen. That really inspired me. Emma and I were going on socially distanced walks in our neighborhood, reminiscing and also talking about the present state of the world. That’s how the project started, on those walks, which is really magical. 

What did you envision for the mural and what do you hope people gain from this? 

Emma: During the planning stages, we were collecting community survey responses, and the questions ranged from what would you want to see in a mural at Duke Park to what are some things you’re experiencing right now during the pandemic, and what colors do you like—broad questions. 

One question was, “Where are you coming from?” since we would collect these surveys at Duke Park. We were receiving survey responses from people all over the Triangle during the pandemic. People were traveling to Duke Park during the pandemic to bring kids to play and for socially distanced activities, and I was surprised to see that. I thought it was mostly Duke Park neighbors; it just goes to show how many people actually use the park from all over Durham and the broader Triangle. 

The mural artist, Renzo Ortega, actually titled the mural Abrazo Eterno—an eternal embrace, and he described it as symbolizing that Durham always welcomes you. Our hope for the project is that this mural represents everyone and all who come to utilize the park. The symbolism of a journey  is also an important piece that we saw from the beginning stages, from the Community Survey input all the way until the very last finishing touch. 

How were you able to bring this to life? 

Rese: We gathered a committee of people who brought different skills and backgrounds to the table and represented the Durham community in different ways. 

Andrew Preiss is a member of the Duke Park community and a local artist. Cornelio Campos is a well-known and successful community muralist and painter in the Triangle. We had some people who are connected with the City of Durham, Annette Smith and Susan Taylor, who also are close to Duke Park, people who could give us the know-how from the city’s perspective and from the community perspective. 

We had José Santibañez, my high school teacher’s husband. He’s a sweet guy and he runs Bull City Futsal. They have used the Duke Park tennis courts for their practices. It was awesome to get him on board as somebody who uses that space. He’s just well-loved in the community. We got people who are connected with the city, with art in Durham, the youth, and the space all together.

The committee and Cornelio helped form the connection we have with Zarazua Painting, a local Latino-owned painting company in Durham. They donated all the paint for the project. We couldn’t have done it without them. 

Our beloved committee member Michelle Gonzalez-Green passed away before the completion of the mural. Michelle was integral in the beginning stages of the project and coined our name, “Duke Park Community Mural Project.” The inspiration she instilled in us lives through Abrazo Eterno.

Andrew Preiss, Atom Edwards, Pharoah Egbuna, Cornelio Campos, Susan Taylor, Annette Smith, José Santibañez, Celia Donelly, and Michelle Gonzales-Green were all crucial components of the committee that helped bring the project to life.

How can community members contribute to getting this project on the ground running?

Emma: We’re having a community celebration and an official unveiling on July 15 from 4–8 p.m. Artists are performing, we will have a community potluck and live musicians, and then a drag show. We would love to support our artists and we have a GoFundMe. Other than that, coming to the event and celebrating the mural is how locals can get involved.

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