University programs participate in launch of Trenton Mural Arts Project

This spring, a group of Princeton students will use paint to learn how art can bring about social change. To lay the foundation for this work, another group of students will fan out across Trenton to engage communities with a message about art and transformation.

Their work is the realization of a multidisciplinary social justice project that has been two years in the making. 

The University's Center for African American Studies, Lewis Center for the Arts and Pace Center for Civic Engagement have been collaborating with the city of Trenton and several community groups to help launch the Trenton Mural Arts Project, a volunteer-based organization that hopes to establish a vibrant mural arts program in the city. 

Princeton students will help with community outreach and the creation of the mural working with the three University partners. The project is being led by a committee that includes Artworks, the Trenton Downtown Association, the Capital City Redevelopment Corporation and the City of Trenton, with the assistance of the City of Philadelphia Mural Arts Program. The partners announced the initiative Friday, Nov. 19, at a press conference in Trenton.

The mural will be created in the spring at the Home Rubber Company in Trenton. Princeton's Atelier program, which brings professional artists to Princeton for intensive collaborative work with students and faculty, will offer a spring course dedicated to the project called "The Big Picture: Mural Arts in Philadelphia and Trenton." 

Taught by Jane Golden, the director of Philadelphia's Mural Arts Program, along with muralist Shira Walinsky, the course will examine the history of mural art, formal issues of design and formal functions of place in public art. Students will help paint the mural as they explore how the mural process has been a powerful tool for social change and how identity, perception and power shift when communities are part of creating and writing their own histories through murals and other public art. 

"Art is integral to everyday life and an essential component of social and political engagement,” said Princeton Atelier director Stacy Wolf. "This mural project extends the vision and scope of past Princeton Atelier community-based arts courses, which have included documentary filmmaking, dance, theater and photography." 

Also integral to the project is the Center for African American Studies at Princeton, whose Arts and Social Justice Initiative forges community partnerships in Trenton and the surrounding areas to broaden and enhance scholarship about how the arts have an impact on social justice issues and community collaboration. Center associate director Noliwe Rooks helped initiate the project two years ago.

"We intend to bring together people whose paths might otherwise never have crossed and build lasting relationships," Rooks said. "The center’s arts initiative focuses on important issues in community development, service learning in arts education, new models of practice in community-based arts, and cultural diversity and youth development through the arts." 

Students from the Atelier course and the Pace Center, which offers students opportunities to engage in public service, will collaborate with community leaders in facilitating the public outreach and community engagement  of the mural project. They will be involved in a series of outreach sessions to be held this winter to inform residents about the project and get their feedback about what they would like the mural to express.

"This project aligns with our desire to support community revitalization and civic engagement," said Don Dailey, the assistant director of civic engagement at the Pace Center. "It will engage our students with the Trenton community in mutually beneficial ways. Students will be exposed to urban culture and support community organizing, focus groups, and the push and pull of community engagement." 

"This is an exciting day for the city and for us," said Eva Loayza, a mural project committee member and promotions manager for the Trenton Downtown Association. "The mural arts project is tapping into an already thriving arts scene in the city. We hope the community will embrace this project as their own, and help us produce a mural that will be a source of pride and inspiration for all residents."

Individuals interested in the project can get updates about its progress on the Trenton Mural Arts Project website, The project's organizers also are planning to develop Facebook and Twitter pages to go live later this year.