Pamela Rojas at work on an indoor mural: The joy of technology in NetSuite. Kitchener, June 2015.

Photo by Marcia Araneda.

Pamela Rojas is an artist, a community organizer and civic mobilizer who uses murals as a way to build connections between people and places in her home community of Waterloo Region. Believing that ‘a mural is a piece of art for everyone,’ Rojas has been helping to physically transform urban spaces while empowering individuals since she first moved to Canada in 2005. Read more of Pamela’s story in “Power of Art.”

A\J: What was your inspiration to do murals in the first place?

Pamela Rojas: Murals can have a social impact. It’s not the kind of art that is selective or just for educated people. A mural is a piece of art for everyone. When I first moved to Canada (2005), I remember my first winter was so cold and grey. I wondered, why does the city have to be so grey? Why don’t they paint, why don’t they use colour? I saw that when I lived in Switzerland too. Why don’t they use murals to make the city look more vibrant and more welcoming? We have so much talent that we can cover the whole city in colours. It would be like having an outdoor museum. Why do all museums have to be inside? You have to pay for a ticket, that makes it selective. I’m more interested in the education of the masses. 

Tell me about your greatest influence.

Ximena Ahumada. She is the founder of the first mural collective in Seville, Spain. I was her assistant for six years. She approached the murals from a social background. When she was young and in Chile, she belonged to a very famous mural collective. At that time, the people were oppressed and they didn’t have access to the press, so how could they communicate? Through the murals on the wall or very basic print. When we painted murals together, I heard a lot of that history, and I became very interested in how social work and art can be connected. I could see a lot of potential. When I came to Canada, I started working at Reception House, and I could clearly see all the challenges that a social agency has in the community, trying to address different problems, so I thought muralism and the arts are tools to advocate – friendly, and everyone can participate. You can interact with people you don’t know, and when they are painting something together they are at the same level. They have a brush in their hand and they just have to follow the instructions. 

It’s an equalizer. 

Exactly. When everyone is at the same level you feel accepted and that you belong. I take charge of the design and assigning the colour because I know that the product has to be something beautiful and with harmony. I want the volunteers to see the finished mural and say, “Wow! We did it! We did it together!” So the ownership of the mural does not just belong to the artist, it belongs to all the people who help. When you do it with guidance you are not set to fail. Make it clear and have a result, a nice one, so you can say, “Yeah, I made that.” 

Lauren Judge is chief change maker and project manager specializing in innovation strategies, design thinking and storytelling at abstractpm.com.

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