Ambrice Miller '09 recently returned to Davidson to paint a 27-foot by 8-foot mural in the new Multicultural Center's Alvarez College Union office. Two weeks in the making, the finished mural depicts the evolution of diversity and multiculturalism at the college from its founding to its future.
The new Multicultural Center office will serve as a gathering and presentation space in the heart of campus for multicultural student organizations, as well as administrative space for the college's chapters of the National Pan-Hellenic Council. It comes on the heels of other recent diversity initiatives at Davidson, including the addition of the Multicultural House to Patterson Court in 2010 and the employment in 2011 of Tae-Sun Kim as the college's director of multicultural affairs.
It was Kim who arranged for Miller to paint the mural, based on the artist's impressive global presence and her ability to personally relate to the undertaking. "She's a graduate... she's from Alabama... There's nobody that could better tell the story of race at Davidson than Ambrice," Kim said.
Miller explained, "After I spoke with Tae-Sun about what I should include in the mural, we decided we wanted to tell a story, and not just show a collage of different images."
Miller grew up in Birmingham, Ala., and cultivated her painting skills at the Alabama School of the Arts. She received the Romare Bearden Memorial art scholarship to enroll at Davidson, and went to work at Bank of America in Charlotte upon graduation. For the past three years she has worked for the bank in London. She also has established a studio there, and has exhibited her work not only in the United Kingdom, but also in Spain, Estonia and China.
She was delighted at the opportunity to contribute her artistic talent to the college. "I jumped at the opportunity to paint something that would serve as a stamp on Davidson's campus to affirm that the college is dedicated to multicultural diversity, and that will last as a legacy to point Davidson in the right direction," she said.
Reading from left to right, the mural tells the story of diversity on campus. It begins with an image of slaves helping construct the President's house and some of the first academic buildings, including the original Chambers Building.
The mural continues with a large portrait of President Emeritus Sam Spencer, who was influential in racially integrating Davidson's campus and introducing coeducation in 1973. The next images are smaller portraits of individuals who represent Davidson's multicultrual "firsts." They include Ben Nzengu '66, the first black student admitted and graduated; Leslie Brown '69, the first African American to graduate; Mike Malloy '70, the college's first African American basketball player and fraternity member; Marianna "Missy" Boaz Woodward '73, the first woman to graduate; Renee Denise Fanuel '77, the first African American woman to graduate; and Beadsie Woo '86, the first woman and Asian American president of the Student Government Association.
Others depicted as notable in the diversification of the college are Professor of Anthropology Nancy Fairley, President Carol Quillen and U.S. Secretary of Transportation Anthony Foxx '93.
The mural concludes with an African American face looking to the future, pictured against a coat rack holding the Greek-letter jackets for the historically black fraternity and sororities on campus-Alpha Phi Alpha, Kappa Alpha Psi, Alpha Kappa Alpha and Delta Sigma Theta.
Miller named the mural "Chances Are," based on the title of a poem written by her mother. "The poem is not just about her experiences as a minority," Miller said. "It's about the need to stand apart and celebrate differences while also embracing the differences of others."
Miller was aided in the creation of the mural by Isabel McLain '16, a prospective Africana Studies major who gained experience painting murals while in high school.
"I wrote a research paper last fall about the first two Congolese students to come to Davidson," McLain said. "So it was interesting doing this mural to learn more about some of the first non-white students to brave coming here."
Miller noted that her art, which deals primarily with race relations in the American South, is received differently on different sides of the Atlantic. "Americans often do not openly discuss these issues, but foreign audiences are interested in my art because it touches on subjects Americans consider too sensitive to bring up."
Miller's experiences abroad have been artistically enlightening. "In the United States, race is always on the forefront of our minds," Miller explained. "At Davidson I am often consciously aware that I'm the only black person walking down the street. However, in London everyone is from all over, and no one really cares about where you are from or about the color of your skin."
Miller believes initiatives such as the Multicultural Center and her mural can help promote racial understanding by promoting questions about oneself and others. "Those types of discussions emphasize to minorities that Davidson is going to support you no matter your race, creed or identity."
Miller hopes her mural will serve as a springboard for further strides in diversity. "Art should be a platform that evokes dialogue. We want to make sure that Davidson students are building relationships with people that don't look and think like themselves," she said. "I hope the Multicultural Center will aid that conversation, and that my mural sparks that dialogue."