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Students learn mural making in a city with a burgeoning culture of public art

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Even on a cloudy afternoon, the new public art installment at Guilford Technical Community College (GTCC) adds vibrance to its Jamestown campus. Thanks to a mini-grant from the GTCC Foundation, students were able to learn from a professional visual artist and experience the process of creating a freestanding mural from start to finish. 

The mini-grants provided by the GTCC Foundation were offered in sums up to $3,000 and were designed to inspire GTCC faculty to improve a college program while helping the college meet its strategic goals. Visual art instructor Douglas Cason has been working and teaching in the field of visual arts for decades.

An artist himself, Cason noticed an increased demand for murals in Greensboro upon moving from Texas to work for GTCC five years ago. Having painted murals in the past, he knew it required a unique skill set that his students might benefit from learning. 

The mini-grant allowed Cason to pay for all of the supplies needed to teach students how to create and paint a mural. It also helped him bring in a local professional artist to aid in the mural making and offer insights to students.

“I had not painted a mural in over 20 years, and then I came to Greensboro and that seems to be how you make your money,” said Cason.

Since his move, Cason has been commissioned to paint three murals in Greensboro, two in Eden, and one in Reidsville. He was also asked to paint a mural back in Texas, which he completed in the fall of 2023.

“My whole thing was ‘nobody’s teaching you this, yet it’s a viable market,’” said Cason.

Greensboro locals are no strangers to seeing murals featured on buildings across the city, especially in midtown. In 2010, Greensboro was selected as a top 10 destination for outdoor art by Men’s Journal.

Pro tips

This mural of artist Jean-Michele Basquiat was part of a collaboration from Jenna Rice and Gina Franco in Greensboro. Courtesy of Jenna Rice

Creating the mural on campus was a process. From ideating, sketching, digitizing, and eventually painting, students were able to gain an understanding of what it takes to make a mural. Professional visual artist Jenna Rice assisted Cason in teaching the students the process of creating the public art piece. 

“She was a natural for the job and has been very interested in working for a school doing just that, teaching the art of spray paint,” said Cason.

Rice is a visual artist who was raised in New England but is now based in Greensboro. She moved south to further her education and completed her Bachelor of Fine Arts in 2012. Her work is featured all over Greensboro from menu boards and window paintings to murals and more. She also has a YouTube channel with instructional videos to help other artists refine their skills.

“Spray paint goes so much faster than regular paint,” said Cason. 

While Rice worked on the left side of the mural, showing students her technique and demonstrating her process, students worked on the right side. While they did return later to touch up the project, they finished the entire piece in an afternoon.

Cason hopes this project will help show students that there is a range of opportunities to make money in the field of art all while contributing to the greater community. 

Students practicing skills in one of Douglas Cason’s art classes at GTCC. Alli Lindenberg/EducationNC
Alli Lindenberg

Alli Lindenberg is an executive fellow for EducationNC.