Honors Program enlists alumna artist AGonza for collaborative art installation showing URI honors students of today

‘Faces of Honors’ opening to take place Oct. 18 in Lippitt Hall

KINGSTON, R.I. – Oct. 13, 2023 – Newly commissioned artwork often stays under wraps until formal openings—often the case with figures of state and elected leaders. During a year when the University of Rhode Island Honors Program (approaching the half-century mark this year) is restructuring its curriculum and offerings, the program is putting the spotlight on the students themselves.

Artist and alumna Angela Gonzalez ’16, known as AGonza, has been painting the students in her Providence studio and will return to URI’s Kingston Campus Oct. 18 to present the portraits. Though busy with her career as a sought-after muralist and portrait artist, AGonza frequently makes time for her alma mater where her art career started. She’ll be at Homecoming this weekend and returning to work with students in December.

Last school year, AGonza painted Martin Luther King, Jr. live during a MLK Day luncheon in the Multicultural Student Services Center.

“It has been such an honor to do something like this for a university where I studied and graduated from,” AGonza, a Talent Development graduate, says. “It is a second home to many and URI has helped many people out of tough situations. It is like family!”

Everyone has a deep story and a different path to and through college, she says. She hopes to highlight these challenges through her depictions of four students in the URI Honors Program today.

“The stories these students shared with me hit home,” she says.

On Wednesday, Oct. 18, AGonza’s portraits of the four students will be displayed during a reception between 4 and 6 p.m. in Lippitt 402. All URI students, faculty and staff are invited to join (RSVP here) to see the portraits and meet AGonza.

While AGonza is helping to put a new look on the program visually, honors staff hope that others around the campus look at their programs and offerings with new eyes as well. They invite the community to return to browse the artwork after the event, visit the Lippitt Lounge or talk with staff about ways to connect work across the University.

A URI artist

AGonza’s colorful large-scale pieces dot the state, from Central Falls to the Ryan Center. She has been commissioned by Trinity Rep, The Boston Globe and the Providence department of Arts Culture and Tourism. If you’ve traveled in or around the capital city, you’ve likely encountered one of her colorful murals. Her larger-than-life creations often depict challenging topics but give the viewer a sense of hope.

AGonza spent several weeks creating the portraits for honors, which will replace the artwork on display outside of the honors offices. Although striking, the photographs of Vietnam and past student projects had been there for more than a decade. While emotionally moving, the honors team felt it was time for an update.

“We really liked what AGonza proposed,” says Karen de Bruin, in her second year as director of the Honors Program, which was storytelling through portraits of honors students.

With funding for four portraits, they chose students who were active ambassadors for the program and represented the diversity of URI honors. De Bruin hopes these are the first in a series of many.

“This project is one that can evolve,” she says. As funding allows, they will add more portraits to the four originals, so future students can see themselves in the portraits of the past and students of the past will be able to inspire students of the future. “We hope that this project will inspire community sponsors who would like to contribute to a tradition of excellence and a place of belonging for our honors students.”

In AGonza’s work today, she often focuses on neighborhood residents, local heroes, regular people who are part of the community, painting on city walls and community hallways. And that’s what the new installation at URI will do.

A look at Honors, 2023

Like all students in honors, the students selected represent diverse majors and paths to the program. All have enjoyed honors’ small classes and the chance to connect closely with faculty, to network with like-minded students in unique classes.

All are excited to leave their mark at URI in this way and have enjoyed the process of having a nontraditional portrait done.

“I hope that future URI students see the diversity in the types of students at URI,” one says. “The portrait project should serve as a window into the time period happening now.”

“When I first heard about the portraits my reaction was a hard pass,” one student admits. “I’m not big on having my likeness used for anything, I even rarely post on social media. But after reading about the project more closely and seeing that there was an interview with the artist, and seeing her work and style, I became OK with the idea of leaving behind some sort of mark at URI. I hope that by sharing part of my story with AGonza, her work will help others find that they can also be a part of this honors experience.”

“I hope these portraits show other students hope, resilience, persistence, and perseverance. We each bring a story with us, at first it may not seem like anything special, but doing things like this, like engaging in the honors program and seeking to make change in some way, adds to the depth of the story we are each crafting. Will the story we make be memorable, or even interesting, who knows? But it will be our story that we made, and part of it was done right here at URI.”

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