Caroline Farris and Claire Nicola give a voice to community members through mural and interview project
Last school year, Caroline Farris ’22 and Claire Nicola ’22 applied for and received the third Fletcher Bright Fellowship for Artistic and Community Engagement. Named for one of the world’s great traditional old-time and bluegrass fiddlers, the late Fletcher Bright, his eponymous fellowship was founded by his daughter Lizzer Bright Graham ’77. She wanted to honor his legacy through a gift to Girls Preparatory School that would celebrate the arts and foster growth, curiosity, and excitement for students.
The endowed program offers an annual award to a rising GPS senior or seniors who are selected through an extensive application and outside review. Following a year mired by COVID-19, Caroline and Claire knew they wanted to highlight and honor essential workers. Their idea blossomed from there and, as the recipients of the fellowship, they connected with two local organizations to share stories of community and connection.
They explained, “In times of COVID-19, the Chattanooga community has been lacking a sense of unity, which we felt could be mended through an artistic project that spread visual awareness about current social, mental, and societal issues in order to invoke empathy and create connections. Our objective was to reestablish a sense of community within Chattanooga through an artistic rendition of this concept.”
First, the girls partnered with Erlanger Health System, where Claire’s mom works. “I had seen firsthand how much stress she was under, given so much was unknown,” Claire said. “That’s how we decided we wanted to honor frontline workers.”
The other community organization the pair partnered with was La Paz. Caroline explained, “We knew we also wanted to highlight a group that wasn’t as represented and didn’t have as big of a voice. We recognized that the pandemic wasn’t just affecting essential workers, so we wanted to illustrate that aspect of it, too.”
Work started at the beginning of second semester junior year, when the girls began contacting the organizations for support. When summer rolled around, prior commitments took precedence—volleyball for Claire, who signed to continue her playing career at Webster University earlier this year, and Governor’s School for the Arts for Caroline—before they jumped back in full force this past August.
From the beginning, the duo knew they wanted to both show and tell the stories of locals, which is why they chose to interview representatives in addition to commemorating them through murals. The girls arranged Zoom interviews with members of both organizations, which will be incorporated into the final art pieces through QR codes.
The girls admit the toughest part of the project has been communication, but they have enjoyed the process and learned a lot about planning, preparation, and execution of such a large-scale project. “It’s been really nice to have this experience and get to interact with people we wouldn’t have otherwise,” Caroline said. “Getting to hear their stories—and the depth we went into with these people—it really changed my perspective,” Claire added.
Both murals, while completed on canvas, will be transferred to large wall clings to allow them to be mobile and remain in good condition for an extended period of time. Installation will take place in the near future, with representatives from GPS, the Bright family, and both organizations in attendance to commemorate the occasion.