When most people think of summer, they see images of barbecues, beach relaxation, time spent with friends and long, leisurely vacations.
But for Michelle Nugent, senior fine arts major, summer was an opportunity to create inspired, vibrant art for the city of Trenton.
Nugent spent the summer making art as a member of the Trenton Summer Research Program at the College, which is funded by the National Conference on Undergraduate Research and the Lancy Foundation.
Nugent got involved with the program at the urging of Sarah Cunningham, director of the College’s art gallery. Nugent has worked in the gallery since her freshman year, so the two already had experience working together. When she heard of the community-based art project, Cunningham said she didn’t hesitate in asking Michelle to join.
“Michelle is a very talented artist and also is someone who engages in her community . I knew she would make the most of it and offer a great deal to those she worked with,” Cunningham said.
The two first worked together on a mosaic for a neighborhood park in the Hillcrest section of Trenton. Nugent then worked on a large-scale, 8-by-32 foot plywood mural for the gymnasium at the West Ward Center in the city. Although Cunningham guided her, Nugent said the process was largely an independent endeavor.
“(Cunngingham) let me have more artistic vision as to what I wanted to do,” Nugent said.
The end result was the Trenton city skyline, painted with vibrant blues, reds, yellows and greens.
To complete the mural, Nugent enlisted the children of the West Ward center. She said she wanted to go into the project with a more hands-on approach, and she enjoyed introducing the children, who ranged from 6 to 12 years old, to use art as a creative outlet.
“I could not get them to stop painting,” she said, laughing as she spoke about their enthusiasm for the project. “They took great pride in what they were doing. They would bring their parents in to show them what parts they had painted themselves.”
“I hope I have helped promote even greater pride and connection to Trenton as not just a city, but also a center of cultural diversity with strong community ties,” Nugent said.
Cunningham also noticed how well Michelle got along with the children.
“It was really a pleasure to watch her . You could just see how much the kids liked her, and how they learned a lot from her.”
Michelle’s artwork is well-known on the College’s campus. Curators consistently have accepted her art for the Student Art Exhibition in the College Art Gallery. One of her pieces, “Can’t See the Forest for the Trees,” won the President’s Purchase Award this past year. Another piece, “Building with Basquiat,” is currently on display in College President R. Barbara Gitenstein’s home.
Nugent is also a member of the Arts Student Association and the Golden Key International Honour Society.
As an employee of the College’s art gallery, Nugent says she enjoys the “physical labor of putting together an exhibit.” Cunningham also has a great appreciation for the work Nugent has done in the gallery.
“I depend on Michelle quite a lot,” she said, adding that Michelle is responsible, organized and a great problem-solver. She also said Michelle has “a really positive engagement with those who come to the gallery.”
Now a senior, Nugent said the College’s art department has been a great help to her.
She said, “It’s such a close-knit community with many beneficial student and teacher/mentor relationships, that I’ve not only learned valuable things inside the classroom but outside of them as well.”