Local | Post-Its

Art Students, Residents Collaborate on Mural at Covenant House

University of Arizona Associate Professor Kelly Leslie, left, and student Valeria Jimenez, Photo: Abbie Stone

Residents of Tucson’s B’nai B’rith Covenant House longed for a mural to enhance the back wall of the facility’s patio, says Abbie Stone, president of the board of Covenant House, an affordable housing community for older adults funded by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

“We try to encourage the resident council here,” says Stone. Creating a mural can be expensive, so she started looking for grants. Then the COVID-19 pandemic hit, and the idea was shelved — but not forgotten.

In a stroke of serendipity, at an arts event last spring Stone met Kelly Leslie, an award-winning artist and associate professor at the University of Arizona School of Art. Leslie teaches a “Clients in the Community” design course and agreed to have her Fall 2023 class take on Covenant House’s 80-foot-long wall as one of its projects, with Covenant House paying only for supplies.

“The students really listened to the history of how this building got built,” says Stone.

Covenant House was established by Gerd Strauss and Hans Spear, both Holocaust survivors, in cooperation with B’nai B’rith International. It opened in 1995 at 4414 E. Second St. The 58-unit residence proved so popular it was quickly expanded to 119 units, says Stone, who is B’nai B’rith’s national co-housing chair.

Residents met with the art students to share their ideas for the mural and voted for their favorite among eight student designs.

Valeria Jimenez produced the winning design, an Arizona landscape with saguaros, mountains, and a variety of wildlife. Gradations of color evoke the stages of the day, from morning to evening, an idea that came from the residents.

University of Arizona Associate Professor Kelly Leslie and her students paint the mural designed by student Valeria Jimenez, Photo: Abbie Stone

Jimenez was surprised that the residents wanted an Arizona scene. “Most of them were like, ‘We love Arizona. We love living here,’” she says.

Since a few requested something more unusual, “I decided to play around with the size of the animals,” says Jimenez. ‘“They don’t usually see a giant lizard or a giant quail.”

Jimenez drew her original design with pastels. It was digitized and projected onto the wall at night to be traced.

Residents enjoyed seeing the mural take shape. Lorraine Farpelha was one of several residents sitting on the patio to watch the students paint on Dec. 5, along with her small dog, Tramp, who also kept a watchful eye on the proceedings.

“I love the design,” Farpelha says.

From inside the building, residents can see the mural through the windows of the hallway and the multipurpose room as well as from many apartments.

With board members and all of the students in Leslie’s class pitching in, the mural was completed on Dec. 14, including a coat of sealant to protect it from the elements.

The completed mural at Covenant House, Photo: Abbie Stone

Covenant House is planning a community event in the spring, which will be an opportunity to see the mural.

Stone notes that Covenant House, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit, is a Qualifying Charitable Organization for Arizona’s income tax credit program. It is listed as Tucson’s Covenant with Elderly, Inc., and its QCO Code is 20123.

B’nai B’rith also sponsors the Gerd & Inge Strauss B’nai B’rith Manor on Pantano, which opened in 2006, and recently took over the sponsorship of two other HUD communities, Estes Gardens and Blanche Johnson Courtyards. B’nai B’rith facilities are open to all eligible older adults, without regard to religion, sex, disability, race, or national origin.