McCarthy Center mural illustrates pathways to a better future

Muralist Francisco Franco repaints the sky around the sun to highlight its rays. PHOTO BY CALLIE FAUSEY / SAN FRANCISCO FOGHORN

The Leo T. McCarthy Center for Public Service and the Common Good (LTMC) unveiled a new mural this week that encapsulates the center’s mission and values by bringing together historical imagery and symbolism alluding to a brighter future. Although USF and its students are not unfamiliar with some of the murals decorating the city, the piece will be the first large-scale mural project seen at USF in several years. 

The design committee, which was made up of LTMC students, community partners, staff and faculty, prompted the question: “Imagine waking up tomorrow to a re-imagined, just world. What does it look like?” 

For senior Priana Aquino, a public service and community engagement minor through one of the center’s programs, being on the committee was exciting. 

“Not only do I enjoy talking about art, I was able to be around a group of people from USF for the first time in a year and a half,” Aquino said. “The idea of community, specifically bridging community, was important to me. As we come into a new kind of pandemic life, I wanted to reflect in our mural how our concepts of community will remain the same no matter how isolated we are from each other.”

LTMC partnered with Precita Eyes Muralists, a local mural arts organization and artist collective, to assist in bringing their ideas to life. After brainstorming various themes and multiple individual design drafts, the process revealed a combined “vision of different pathways all leading to a path toward equity that we are all traveling,” according to the center’s website. 

Derick Brown, the senior director of the McCarthy Center, said the mural captures the LTMC’s primary goal of preparing students for a successful life in public service and the center’s emphasis on connecting USF to the broader San Francisco community. 

“We’re the heartbeat of USF,” said Brown. “When I look at the mural, it really showcases the center, and what we stand for, what we believe in, some of the work that we have been doing but then also what we hope for the future.” 

The mural’s narrative according to the LTMC’s Director of External Relations, Leslie Lombre, begins with “Native Ohlone patterns that point up to the night sky and the Golden Gate Bridge with an ominous glow of the moon upon the fog, this representing the unknown or the lack of clarity that we all have when beginning a journey.”

The viewer’s eye follows this journey from the foggy night sky to the Civic Center lit up in a rainbow. Pouring out of the building is a peace parade made up of a “rainbow of people” from all walks of life advocating for revolutionary love. 

The parade was one of muralist Francisco Franco’s favorite components of the overall design. Franco described his work with Precita Eyes and LTMC as a collaborative effort. His job was to take inspiration from the committee’s ideas, stitch them into a cohesive story, and make it visual. 

“Creating a composition with all their ideas was the hard part,” said Franco while taking a break from repainting the mural’s sun on Sept. 14. Despite the challenges that arose, Franco ended up with a final design that he called “Bay-Area-esque.” Franco said that the Bay Area tradition of making a difference through grassroots efforts and community education, as depicted in the mural, relates to how he got to where he is now as a self-taught artist. 

The mural’s parade passes by a “tree of wisdom” filled with books and reaching out in all directions. The tree also features a Black Panther to represent “the Bay Area’s history of Social Justice movements and its fierce and powerful influence for change.” 

“There’s gonna be a lot of roots coming down from the tree, to represent native roots, and also people who come here and set roots down to make the Bay a more beautiful and just community,” said Franco.

One of the last additions to the piece were jazz players who represent the Fillmore’s musical history and invite the crowd to “go off the beaten path, which is necessary to create change and in discovering new frontiers.” Many pathways are featured in the mural, all leading into the light of a shining sun. The sunrays represent enlightenment and success. 

“Sometimes you have to go out there to stand for what you believe in, and that’s depicted in the mural, but it’s also what we’re teaching the students day in and day out,” said Brown.

Aquino also said that the mural represents everything the McCarthy Center stands for. “Everything we work for is done for those who came before us and those who will come after us, fortifying a legacy of love that will pave the pathway to equality and prosperity.” 

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