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Twilight artist-in-residence Will Kasso has painted a mural of Mary Annette Anderson and Martin Freeman in the main lounge of the Anderson Freeman Center.

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Twilight Artist-in-Residence Transforms Anderson Freeman Center

March 22, 2017


MIDDLEBURY, Vt. ­– A colorful new mural project in the Anderson Freeman Resource Center that began by honoring the center’s namesakes is also building community among students. Visual artist Will Kasso, the Alexander Twilight Artist-in-Residence, and studio art major Zarai Zaragoza ’18 recently completed the first of many murals that will cover the center’s interior walls.

The mural in the main entrance of AFC features portraits of Mary Annette Anderson, the first African-American woman to graduate from Middlebury, and Martin Henry Freeman, the first African-American man to become a college or university president in the U.S. All around them are bright, swirling designs and vibrant colors that give a contemporary feel to two of the College’s important historic figures.

As the Twilight Artist-in-Residence, Kasso will be leading workshops, visiting classes, meeting with students, and helping to bring more original, collaborative visual art to AFC this spring. His work is primarily centered on community-building, using mural arts as a vehicle for activism and beautification.

“Will’s public murals and civic engagement have had a profound impact on helping low-income neighborhoods and communities of color come together to make social change,” said Jennifer Herrera, associate director of AFC. Kasso’s art projects have inspired communities to take ownership of neighborhood clean-up and beautification efforts, she said.

This is not Kasso's first time at Middlebury, noted Herrera. A few years ago at the invitation of his niece, Sadé Williams ’14.5, Kasso came to campus to lead a social activism workshop and paint live during a Verbal Onslaught event. A canvas he painted at that time hangs in one of the lounges at AFC.

A Trenton, New Jersey native, Kasso firmly believes in the power of art to improve lives. He’s seen it happen time and again in the many communities where he’s worked.

“I typically gravitate toward inner cities because that’s where I grew up,” Kasso said. “And I know that art is the missing link. It’s what kept me out of a life of crime and all kinds of things that would have prevented me from being here to this day. Art was my escape when I was surrounded by nothing but negativity.”

Kasso’s public art can be deeply political, asking difficult questions about social issues and change. In 2014, he painted a mural of Michael Brown, the teenager who was shot and killed by police in Ferguson, Missouri, with the caption, “Sagging Pants is Not Probable Cause.” The painting, which was done on a corner building in downtown Trenton, immediatley sparked debate. Police and the Trenton Downtown Association feared it would inflame police-community relations and the association had it removed.

In 2012, Kasso cofounded the nonprofit SAGE Coalition, a diverse group of artists, fabricators, musicians, and educators focused on organizing inner-city beautification projects. Kasso described his own personal journey from college art star to street artist to community organizer in a Middlebury Tedx talk last fall.

Herrera says Middlebury students have been eager to get to know Kasso and connect with his life story. Whether or not they have any experience, many want to use art to express themselves, while adding beauty to the AFC community. She said Kasso’s residency is giving students a gateway to the arts that they might not have found otherwise.

On a recent late-winter afternoon, Kasso led a workshop at the Anderson Freeman Center. Student crews worked throughout the building on paper-lined floors in stairwells and hallways–some doing finishing work, while others started on bare walls. Kasso offered tips and techniques for brushing, rolling, and spraying, often interjecting stories from his own life as an artist. If he ever felt a moment of stress at supervising so many different painters at one time, he never showed it.

“It’s really difficult to mess up with me,” Kasso smiled, “because it’s just paint. If you don’t like what you’re doing, just go over it!”

Previous Twilight Scholars have included Jeffrey O.G. Ogbar, Philip Hamilton '82, Kymberly Pinder '87, Houston A. Baker Jr. and Charlotte Pierce Baker, Duda Penteado, Claude Steele, Sonia Sanchez, Scott Page, Junot Diaz, Antwi Akom, Maisha Winn, Tricia Rose, Angela Y. Davis, and Kimberlé Crenshaw.