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What’s it like to paint a mural in isolation? This St. Petersburg artist shares her experience

Cecilia Lueza socially distanced on a lift for the project at Hillsborough Community College.
"Exuberance" by Cecilia Lueza, who painted the health- and wellness-themed mural at HCC's Dale Mabry campus while social distancing.
"Exuberance" by Cecilia Lueza, who painted the health- and wellness-themed mural at HCC's Dale Mabry campus while social distancing. [ Courtesy of Cecilia Lueza ]
Published Apr. 28, 2020
Updated May 4, 2020

This past summer, when Cecilia Lueza was asked to create a heath- and wellness-themed mural for the Social Sciences building at Hillsborough Community College’s Dale Mabry campus, she had no idea how poignant the topic would turn out to be.

And she definitely didn’t expect to be painting by herself, on an empty campus, during a pandemic.

HCC has been closed since March, with teachers and students working remotely. But as Amanda Poss, the director at campus art gallery Gallery 221 who spearheaded the mural project, explained, Lueza would be practicing the ultimate social distancing, up on a lift painting the second and third stories of the building.

They talked about it and decided to go ahead with the timely mural, which was always slated to be painted in March.

"Exuberance" by Cecilia Lueza, who painted the health and wellness-themed mural at HCC's Dale Mabry campus while social distancing.
"Exuberance" by Cecilia Lueza, who painted the health and wellness-themed mural at HCC's Dale Mabry campus while social distancing. [ Courtesy of Cecilia Lueza ]

“I’m glad that I was allowed to do it because it really kept me sane, especially the first few weeks, when we were trying to adapt to a new reality,” Lueza said. “It really helped me. It gave me a purpose.”

Lueza is from Argentina but now lives in St. Petersburg, where her colorful murals are painted on walls, at the intersection of Central Avenue and Fifth Street, on a pier at North Shore Park and in the James Museum of Western and Wildlife Art.

This mural was designed by artist Cecilia Lueza.
This mural was designed by artist Cecilia Lueza.

Originally, students were going to assist her with the mural, but those plans had to be scrapped. Lueza said the solitude actually helped her focus, concentrate and take her time.

The mural, titled Exuberance, is part of the Grounds4Art project coordinated by Gallery 221. The project is steeped in foreshadowing. It was established to bring awareness of mental and emotional health and wellness, as well as food insecurity. The gallery partnered with Feeding Tampa Bay on the grant they received from the Arts Council of Hillsborough County. The Social Studies building houses the campus’ food pantry, so the mural would act as a “creative placemaker” to show people where they could find resources.

“Cecilia’s bold, beautiful, really joyous and energetic palette just seemed to be the perfect thing for this kind of project,” Poss said.

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While the events and programs that were originally planned surrounding the mural’s completion are on hold for now, Poss said that the project is already making an impact on the community. After Feeding Tampa Bay used the campus to distribute food, she received messages from people who were there who said the mural was uplifting.

Lueza said that’s the reason she focuses on public art.

“It’s fulfilling, because you connect with other people," she said. "It’s rewarding and inspiring.”