CSUSM community reaches out to refugees with art

Pierson Cepeda, Assistant Web & Social Media Manager


Throughout the year, CSUSM students, faculty and community partners participated in the Art Miles Mural Project, an international movement that connects people through healing murals.

Joanne Tawfilis, a CSUSM community partner, is responsible for creating the program. Art Miles was born when Tawfilis gave children in Bosnia the opportunity to create art by taking a bullet­-ridden sheet, patching it up and asking them to paint.

Tawfilis is also the founder of the Muramid Museum and Art Center, the first mural museum in which the works created from the Art Miles program will be displayed.

Each mural begins with volunteers painting on one half of the canvas, leaving the other half unpainted for the specific community to whom they are reaching out. One such community is the group of refugees in Syria fleeing the strife caused by the outbreak of war.

Another program partner is CSUSM faculty member Marilyn Huerta. She works to spread the use of art in other CSUSM programs, such as Student Health and Counseling Services, Educational Opportunity Program, the Civility Campaign, Super STEM Saturday, CSUSM’s 25th Anniversary and Operation Art.

“I believe in the power of art because it helps people heal and deal with things going on in life— stress, grief, health, whatever you’re going through. It’s also a tool to help people communicate,” said Huerta. “It’s not always about creating a masterpiece, it’s bringing people together.”

Student involvement has become an integral aspect of the program. Dr. Eliza Bigham, a human development professor, has integrated the Art Miles program into her applied research classes.

“This was a really different stretch, because it was abroad and through aid workers. Really fun and challenging for the students,” said Bigham, referencing a mural her students worked on for Syrian refugees.

Bigham’s students also added another dimension to the project by giving other students the option to write something personal on notecards to the refugees. These notecards allowed participants the opportunity to become a part of the movement and think deeper about the conflict going on in Syria.

According to the Art Miles website, the project reaches over 100 nations and 500,000 people that have worked together to create more than 5,000 murals.