Bringing WIDA’s values to life through collaborative mural

June 22, 2023

Every year WIDA staff gathers in Madison, Wisconsin for a week-long staff retreat. It’s a chance for a mostly remote staff to get together in person to connect, plan and learn. In 2022, WIDA staff were given a choice of a fun activity to do with their colleagues. The options ranged from kayaking on Lake Mendota to a service project with United Way of Dane County. One option was a collaborative art project.

Joy Pfeiffer, human resources specialist at WIDA, was involved from the early stages of the project.

“We wanted to offer different ways for staff to collaborate and connect with one another,” Pfeiffer said. “We were trying to provide different experiences for folks to be able to enjoy together and one of the ideas we had was a collaborative art project.”

WIDA hired local artist Rodrigo Carapia to design the mural. Carapia, originally from Mexico City, Mexico, is a muralist, and has painted more than 20 murals in the Madison area. Carapia has extensive experience working with groups to make art—many of his murals were collaborative projects with schools.

He drafted designs based on WIDA’s mission and values, incorporating artistic elements to represent the work WIDA does.

“The two things I wanted to add first were flowers and colors because those represent diversity to me,” Carapia said.

You'll see a butterfly in the mural. It represents immigration and the journey that many multilingual learners take in their lives. The hands on the left side represent unity, while the students throughout the mural represent community and language learning in its many forms—from reading, to writing, to speaking. The swirls represent the multilingual learner journey. It’s not linear, it’s ever-changing and looks different for each person. Two words can be found on the mural—Can Do. These speak to a core WIDA value, the Can Do Philosophy. The idea reflects the foundational belief that everyone has valuable resources they can use to support their own and others’ learning. It’s an asset-based approach that encourages educators to focus on what language learners can do.

Fifteen people signed up for the project. Before staff could gather to paint, a location for the mural needed to be selected.

Though most of WIDA staff works remotely, the organization has a home in the Educational Sciences building on the University of Wisconsin–Madison campus.WIDA staff members painting mural on a wall in a hallway.

“The placement was very intentional,” Pfieffer said. “Before the mural, we didn’t really have a way to welcome people into the WIDA space on the 12th floor. WIDA doesn’t have a front desk. The thought was this mural could be that welcome point.”

Carapia purchased the canvases and worked with staff in the Educational Sciences building to bring them up and secure them to the wall. He primed them and drew the design.

“Then the fun part comes when everyone paints,” Carapia said. “All I have to do is make the design and give them the paint!”

Fifteen people in a tight space all painting at once could be a lot to manage. But Carapia has nine years of experience. He’s learned how best to manage a group. But with WIDA, it was a bit different.

“This group was easy because they were teachers. I didn’t have to explain much because they are very organized,” Carapia laughs. “And they said, ‘we’re teachers and we know how this works.’”

After two hours of work by staff, Carapia and Erika Rosales, WIDA diversity and inclusion specialist, returned to put the finishing touches on the piece. And it was done. A beautiful mural that represents so much of what WIDA values—unity, collaboration, diversity, children, education, language and the Can Do Philosophy.


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