An Artistic Connection

Painting the Diversity MuralChris Emmanuel has worn numerous professional hats—author, chef, graphic designer, marketing teacher, minister and even bodybuilder. But it was Emmanuel the artist who left his mark on Minnesota State University, Mankato last summer.

Emmanuel, who lives nearly 3,000 miles away from Mankato in Belize, came to campus for a two-week residency last June. He had been commissioned to paint a mural celebrating diversity in the Wigley Administration Center, a project that he completed with assistance from students in the Campus Access Program, which is offered to at-risk students the summer before first-year enrollment. Working with students, he said, was a unique opportunity for an artist accustomed to working alone.

Any initial trepidation Emmanuel may have felt vanished once he met the students.

“I didn’t know what it would be like, but the kids made it a very gratifying experience,” he says. “They definitely had a hand in creating the mural, and I got to talk with them about their dreams and aspirations. I think it was a release for a lot of them.”

Susan Taylor, the director of development for the University’s College of Social and Behavioral Sciences and one of the people responsible for bringing him to campus, said the students enjoyed the experience almost as much as Emmanuel did.

“The students really connected with him,” she said. “They loved him, and I know he enjoyed them too… We’ve received an overwhelming positive response to the mural.”

The messages explored in the mural—synergy, nature, community—reflect Emmanuel’s artistic philosophy. “The theme was basically, with all positive and negative shapes, there’s something to be learned and seen,” he says. “And the whole idea of inter-connectivity. Whether it’s succeeding in business or relationships, everyone wants to feel a part of something.”

Chris Emmanuel and a student working on the Diversity MuralEmmanuel advises viewers to look closely at the mural; different angles, he says, brings forth new perspectives.

“Like many of my paintings, the mural has many layers,” he says. “There are different aspects to it. It has a simple message, but then it’s layered to the depths of life and death, and the cycle of life.”

Emmanuel, 51, was born in Grenada, set down roots in Toronto, Ontario, and has called Belize home for the past 12 years. That’s where Taylor discovered his eclectic talents during a faculty trip to Belize’s Ambergris Caye in 2011.

“We talked with him for a while and he told us about the work he’d done and the books he’d written,” she says. “I told him that it would be really great if he did some work on our campus. And when I came back, a colleague told me she wanted to do a diversity mural that would involve the students, and I immediately thought of Chris.”

Taylor says she detected disbelief in Emmanuel’s voice when she floated the idea to him. “He was shocked,” she says. “He told me he never expected to hear from us again.”

Now Emmanuel hopes to return to Mankato again soon; other projects loom on the horizon, he says.

“Mankato’s becoming like my second home,” he says. “I hope to come back and do other things, like speaking at a church, and I also hope to extend my relationship with Minnesota State Mankato as I go forward. I’m very thankful to the University for allowing me to express this part of myself.”

To watch a time-lapse video of the Diversity Mural, visit

http://www.mnsu.edu/cap/summer_11_highlights.html