FREE Encourages Collaboration and Creativity

chalk mural

TMCC’s longest-running interdisciplinary learning community is back this Fall for an event that conforms to physical distancing and other safety norms while also providing a forum for diverse students, faculty, and staff to integrate academic learning into this “Brave New World” in which we find ourselves. Those who participate in this year’s Faculty for Radical Enlightenment and Empowerment (FREE) event will explore the theme, a “Brave New World,” through a gridded chalk mural, fifty feet in diameter, that will slowly emerge in a relay one-participant-at-a-time on the concrete Plaza circle at the Dandini Campus the week of Oct. 12–17.

Although the theme references Aldous Huxley’s dystopian novel, the intent of this year’s FREE event is perhaps the opposite: a collaborative community effort to emerge from the dystopian present to create  a world in which our individual visions for the future coalesce to become, if not utopian, at least a brighter reality generated by  pragmatic solutions and resilient actions through diligent courage. 

In addition to physical distancing protocols (no gathering in the Student Center as in previous iterations of the event), this year the project is led by two lead student muralists: Ashley Gottlieb and Vanessa Garcia. Event organizer Professor Micaela Rubalcava describes these students as working to  “...bring a sense of belonging, diversity, hope, and courage to the present moment. Ashley and Vanessa will showcase the beauty and power of the critical questions we all ask ourselves during this global moment. They bring wholehearted imagination to this project, which bridges academics with real world justice. They demonstrate the bold cross-cultural communication involved in replacing uncertainty and scarcity with holism and well-being.” 

Creating a Brave New World

Illustration of students holding up a globe with the phrase 'It's Ours to Create!'

Gottilieb’s design concept visually captures the challenges of our historical moment.

Co-Lead Muralist Ashley Gottlieb is a Fine Arts major at TMCC, but this isn’t her first time around in higher education. “I came back to TMCC for Graphic Design courses, but I took a drawing class and just fell in love with fine arts,” said Gottlieb, who has a bachelor’s degree in Communications from Knox College (IL) and who, before coming to TMCC worked in event planning and marketing in Chicago. “Shortly after moving here, I found my way to this amazing program.”

Gottlieb’s design will hold the center of the chalk mural around which all the other grids will fall. The image she proposed included a world wearing a graduation cap that is held aloft by people of several different races, each wearing a different t-shirt with slogans like “Black Lives Matter,” VOTE and “I <3 the planet”—contemporary social issues—written across them. 

“My concept sends the message that we, the young people of this country, have the power to impact our world, and the fate of the world lies in our hands. Our education here at TMCC will help us do it,” she said.

Gottlieb is joined by Co-Lead Muralist Vanessa Garcia, a student in the English Language Learner (ELL) program at TMCC. Because Garcia is also deaf, she will be joined by her interpreter, Paulette Savage who has worked as an interpreter in higher education for not only TMCC, but also UNR and WNC. Garcia understands that the communication aspect of a collaborative project of this scope presents specific challenges for her. “Because I’m deaf, what makes it tough is the communication part,” she said. “I’m very visual. I need to have someone help me out there, maybe show me what they want if they have a change of mind, working with the different shapes.”

Colorful painting of a cat.

Garcia’s design will include several elements, including pets—to which many people now turn for comfort.

Garcia’s design will embrace Gottlieb’s central image of the “Brave New World,” offering viewers a plethora of color and possibilities. “I want to encourage people to get stronger, to use a mask, wash their hands for 20 seconds, and to stand six feet from other people,” she said of her design. “I want to use sign language symbols to show bravery, and how the world can be brave when fighting COVID-19 and I want to encourage people to become healthier and stronger.” 

Garcia’s artwork will be achieved through various images that frame Gottlieb’s center design. On the corners, Garcia will include flowers to honor those who have suffered losses due to COVID-19. She will include images of doctors and nurses wearing masks, dogs and cats (also masked) and people using sign language to depict the bravery of the deaf community. These images will be woven together with a series of vines.

Garcia’s inclusion of sign language into her design is fitting: she can sign using three different sign languages but admits aspects of written English are difficult for her, which is how she found herself in TMCC’s ELL program. “Being that I do have a different grammar in American Sign Language, English has been tough for me to really write, which is why I’m taking ELL, to try and get the structure. I don’t have it quite down yet, but I have been progressing.” Art, however, is something that Garcia embraces, and that is a big part of her life.

“I really love art,” she said. “It helps me to express myself in every thought and feeling I have.”

FREE Dance Performances

Pencil drawing of the mural space.

The chalk mural will be drawn in the center of the Plaza. Dancers will perform on the periphery on Oct. 22.

On Thursday, Oct. 22 students from Ballet and Modern dance classes will surround the chalk mural for 15 minute performances. Ballet students will perform at 11:15 a.m. and Modern dance students will perform at 12:45 p.m.  “The students have assisted me in creating a portion of the choreography,” said Dance Instructor Dayna DeFilippis. “The choreography will be based on the two main mural artists’ design concepts.”

DeFilippis will integrate the images into her technique classes, guiding them through movement exploration involving key words and phrases used by Gottlieb and Garcia. “The next step will be to decide on the individual student movements that best ‘fit together’ and construct a phrase,” DeFilippis said. “I think this will be a really powerful and effective way to connect student input directly to the project and performance.” 

Spectators are welcome, as long as they choose a spot on the outside of the Plaza and stay physically distanced at six feet apart. And, because the event is happening at a TMCC location, masks are required.

Participate in the FREE, Earn a Mask

Cloth mask design

Every participant will be given a free FREE mask, which features the “Brave New World” design by TMCC Art Professor Candace Garlock.

TMCC students, faculty and staff are encouraged to participate in the event whether or not they consider themselves a visual artist. In order to get involved, you just need to email a brief submission of a single sentence describing your vision for your chalk square—an image, a quote—and how it relates to the event’s theme. 

"Sidewalk chalk participants may interpret our 'Brave New World' in any way they experience our ‘new normal,’” said Rubalcava. “FREE borrows Huxley’s title to stir the imagination about multiple perceptions and interpretations of our post-COVID-climate-crisis dominated earth. Words and illustrations may communicate hope or despair about how scientific reasoning and evidence guides or does not guide policy as we negotiate a planet roiled by disinformation, misinformation, corruption, and bureaucratic malaise. Bleak indeed if that is where the participant is. Or optimistic if the participant is able to find joy and gratitude in the steps that transform suffering into healing. This TMCC mural, ephemeral as the chalk from which it is made, is about academic freedom and authentic engagement in this learning moment right here and right now."

No matter your aesthetic, attitude or design, every FREE participant will be given a free mask designed by TMCC Art Professor Candace Garlock for participating. During the initial shutdowns that happened early last spring due to COVID-19, Garlock created the “Brave New World” image on the mask, and the inspiration for this year’s FREE event as sidewalk chalk art began to appear around her neighborhood as a way to buoy hope. That, she said, is the point of this year’s FREE event.

“Whatever a participant decides to do with their chalk square should be inspired by what’s in their heart right now. This event is about community, not a gigantic art piece. Come, take a chance and make a mark,” Garlock said.

For more information about this year’s FREE event—and to register as a participant—see the event website.