Jamila Moore Pewu, Cal State Fullerton’s assistant professor, wanted to create a way to show her students that books weren’t the only way to record history. The result was the Mapping Arts OC digital platform, an app-based walking tour of mural sites around Santa Ana. It is an ongoing public digital humanities project produced in collaboration with digital history students at California State University Fullerton (CSUF), local artists and community partners throughout Orange County, California.
Dec. 11, 2018, Orange County Register
“It is great when the students can connect the art to the history of the place they are in,” said Moore Pewu.
Cal State Fullerton's Department of History and nonprofit organization California Humanities partnered to present a Digital Humanities Colloquium and launch the Mapping Arts OC digital platform, which maps and showcases Santa Ana's public murals and utility boxes.
Mapping Arts seeks to build an interactive, digital map that invites users to explore the public arts landscape of Santa Ana while introducing new spatial and cultural interpretations into existing conversations and historical narratives regarding public art and spatial practice in Santa Ana and the greater Orange County region. It plans to engage historically marginalized groups and first-generation college students in the public digital humanities.
Her idea of a compelling history project is one that’s collaborative, where students work together to gather, analyze, and share data. If the project delves into local history and has a component that is useful to the community, that’s even better.
The Cal State Fullerton assistant professor of digital humanities and new media in history found her ideal subject in Santa Ana’s public murals. This semester, the 18 graduate and undergraduate students in her digital history class have been talking to artists, walking the streets, interviewing passersby and talking to archivists on campus to map the location of the murals and provide information about the artists and their vision.
The result is the Mapping Arts OC digital platform, which was launched at the Makara Center for the Arts in Santa Ana. Her students led a coloring and youth story hour using the “Mapping Arts OC Narrative Coloring Book” they designed, provide information on an app-based walking tour with 21 mural sites that comes in English and Spanish, and host a roundtable discussion on “This Is Not a Timid Art: Reflections on Muralism, Urbanism and Negotiating Public Space.”
The project is a collaboration between CSUF’s history department and the nonprofit organization California Humanities.
The digital stories of 15 of Santa Ana’s murals and two utility boxes are the latest addition to the Mapping Arts Project, spearheaded by Lara Stein Pardo, founder of Blackbird Arts and Research. The project maps cities through places where artists have lived and worked historically. Santa Ana joins Denver, Miami, Providence, and Chicago on the site.
“It is great when the students can connect the art to the history of the place they are in. We call it looking for the story within the story, and so all the students in addition to coming up with the basic information, have to come up with the story within the story.”
Moore Pewu was inspired to create the Mapping Arts OC project through a personal connection with a mural on the side of a building now occupied by an H-Mart in Cambridge, MA. Her mother-in-law, Ettamee Pewu, is featured in a huge mural on a building in Cambridge, Mass. In “The Potluck: The Area IV Community Mural” by David Fichter, Pewu is seen dressed in a yellow lappa suit and headwrap, her hand reaching out to offer bread. “She escaped the civil war in West Africa because she was able to make bread,” she said. “It’s a bigger story, but that is part of what helped her to get out.”
“I want students to learn how to apply concepts and theories learned through coursework to real-life applications that impact now only where we live, but how we live. I also want to encourage them to understand that because history exists all around us, we are in a perfect position to engage historical questions and problem spaces within the contexts of the digital public humanities.”
In the future, Jamila plans to continue expanding the Mapping Arts OC site by documenting more murals as there are many more existing and emerging murals that are not yet captured in the project. She is currently working with recent M.A. Graduate Scherly Virgill to develop an educator’s/teacher’s curriculum guide to show educators how to use the coloring book in collaboration with the digital map to educate K-5 students on local art and public history. When she returns from her fellowship in Fall 2020, she would like to resume the Digital History practicum course and incorporate a whole new set of students into the project.
"One small piece of advice I would have for students is to measure their academic growth in ways that go beyond a letter grade, and to instead think about what kinds of skills and experiences they would like to acquire before they leave the university."