Arts & Culture » Visual Art

Mural, Mural

Alma Gomez-Frith paints a history of Boise State

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Artist, Boise State professor and counselor Alma Gomez-Frith has a thing or two to say about the changes going on at the once-small junior college. Gomez-Frith's preferred form of expressing herself, painting, led her to embark on a new commission: a mural that would be part of Boise State's rich history. On August 22, Gomez-Frith's efforts were unveiled—a 7-foot, 10-inch by 12-foot mural on a wall in the Student Union Building. What began 75 years ago as Boise Junior College hasn't been lost or forgotten, thanks in part to Gomez-Frith's artwork. The mural uses Boise State's past and present to commemorate the college's 75th anniversary with brush strokes and portraits. But Gomez-Frith's involvement on campus is much more involved than just her contributions artistically. Gomez-Frith has been teaching in the art department since 1994. She also is a permanent staple at Boise State's College Assistance Migrant Program (CAMP). CAMP is funded by the U.S. Department of Education, with a mission to help migrant or seasonal farm workers and their children go to college. Boise State's CAMP program is one of the most established, having served over a thousand students since 1984, and is a program that is more than just very near and dear to Gomez-Frith's heart. It is her passion.

Boise Weekly caught up with Gomez-Frith to talk about the mural, as well as her work with CAMP.

Boise Weekly: Can you tell us about the process that Boise State took to commission the piece?

Alma Gomez-Frith: They were going to have an art piece for this celebration, and when I contacted them, I was referred to the Office of Communication and Marketing, with Frank Zang. So when I made that contact, we got together, and he said to me, "You know, we did have some money set aside for an art project." They were thinking of a sculpture. But I told them they should think about a mural because you can include a lot of things in a mural. It just so happened they were going to commission an artist to commemorate the 75 years, so I just happened to call at the right time.

Tell us more about the piece from your perspective.

It was always a collaborative work; it was never just what I wanted or what they wanted. We talked about what the mural should be about, and we came to the conclusion that it should include images of Boise State's history, as well as images from today, from the present. And we decided that it would mostly be about students, a few professors, but mostly students. We were trying to not identify specific individuals, although I still included specific individuals. But the people who were specific were the presidents of Boise State. They had to be specific. Coach Peterson also. Some faces might be recognizable because, when I was looking for images of current students, I looked at some of the publications that Boise State puts out, [to] find a face or a pose that I was looking for. I was never trying to make it look exactly like that individual. But mostly it was about representing students and a few professors, too. I was looking at the past and the present, kind of comparing both. And then right at the center of the mural was sort of a transition from the early years into the present.

How long have you been teaching art, and teaching at Boise State?

I have been teaching here since '94. Before I started teaching art here, I was teaching at other places, in California at a city rec place, and before that, I was in Texas, and I was teaching at a couple galleries out there. I would teach kids and adults drawing and painting classes.

What are the most significant changes you've noticed in the art department here?

Lots more students. A lot, a lot of students. I don't know what the student body is in the art department, but there's just been a lot of growth. And on campus? Oh, gosh, I mean if you come here to campus, the growth is incredible because we are in a time where everywhere you look, there's a new structure going up. I see a lot more diversity in the student [body] and the facility as well. I've been on the campus since '89, first as a student and then as a teacher. Growth is what I have seen, in the student body, and diversity.

Can you talk more about your role as a counselor for CAMP?

I'm really pleased that the university has encouraged diversity. I've worked with CAMP for a long time, starting my 17th year this semester. It's a great job, I love it. I am so fortunate. I have the best of both worlds. I'm working in the art department, where I can use my artistic skills and knowledge, and I am Latina, so I am working here in the CAMP program, where all of our students are Latino. It's like being with family. I get to work with my culture and encourage students, and then I get to go to the art department and do something else I love to do.

So the CAMP program, it's a scholarship program for students of a migrant farmworker background. And most of them are Latino—we get 40 students every fall semester. Our goal is to keep them in school, to have them pass all their classes and then to have them continue until they graduate. It's so great for me to work with a student their first year and then to see them graduate. As a program, we keep really close tabs on the students. We work with them, we have weekly meetings with the students. So we provide an environment that is very friendly, very comfortable. They're like my kids. I adopt them.

How has all the media attention surrounding the mural been for you?

It's great. It's always nice to get exposure, always nice for an artist when you're trying to get your work out there. So I always appreciate any kind of exposure that I can get.

Boise State's faculty art show opening reception is Friday, September 7. See some of Gomez-Frith's work, as well as the 75th Anniversary mural in the Student Union Building.