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New State College Mural Spreads Message Of Inclusivity, Community

When you walk by Abba Java Coffeehouse on Locust Lane, you can’t miss the pops of color painted behind the building with the words that read, “You Are Loved, You Are Welcome Here.”

Rising sophomore Nehama Dormont and rising senior Kelly Hooper are the artists behind the latest State College mural. Both have always been passionate about art for most of their lives. When deciding on a major, Dormont was torn between her love for art and music. Ultimately, she chose to major in music education. Hooper, however, has kept her artistic abilities as more of a hobby. Still, she gets to pursue her creative side as a music and psychology major.

Hooper interned with Abba Java this spring. Students who intern with the coffeehouse can create their own project-based internships that fit their interests. As you could probably already guess, Hooper’s internship was focused on creating the mural.

The idea for the mural was suggested by Abba Java’s director, Sarah Voigt. She and Hooper were looking for ideas for the mural’s design and were accepting submissions. While scrolling through a Penn State Facebook group in between her classes, Dormont found out about the opportunity and immediately put her name in for the job.

From there, Dormont’s submission was accepted, and after working out some minor changes to her design, they were ready to get started. The duo painted two to three days a week for nearly a month.

Dormont’s artistic style is minimalistic with bright colors. She features a one-lined face in a lot of her work, which she highlights on her Instagram. She brought that into the design of the mural along with the welcoming message that Hooper says has become a motto for Abba Java.

“We want people to feel welcome. The whole website was just about inclusivity and giving students a space. This is like a very intimate, cozy space,” Dormont said. “I also wanted it to be something that everyone at Penn State could enjoy.”

Hooper said people can either tag their location at Abba Java Coffeehouse or use a hashtag on Instagram for the mural so that there could be a central location for pictures of the mural to be featured. She said that the interest and support from the local community have already been strong.

“It just warms my heart. ‘Community’ has been such a word that has stuck out in my mind throughout the whole process,” Hooper said. “The whole Penn State world is very open and very nice, and was happy that I could contribute to it.”

Not only did a beautiful mural come out of all of this, but Dormont and Hooper also became friends because of this experience. Both of them already shared a passion for music, as Dormont is a music education major and Hooper is double-majoring in music and psychology. Although neither knew each other before working on the mural, the experience brought them closer together.

“She’s the best painting partner in the world. It was so much fun to get to paint with her,” Dormont said. “It was like the best part of my weeks, too, because we’d just hang out and we’d blast our music in the alley. She’s amazing to work with.”

Hooper said that she would love to have another artistic experience similar to creating the mural and has learned how important it is for her to have these hobbies as priorities in her life, even when balancing a future career someday.

“I hope and pray that I’ll have an opportunity to create art like that again because it just made me so happy,” Hooper said. “I don’t know if that’ll ever be my full-time job, but it definitely taught me about learning to prioritize hobbies and understanding that the benefit that art and music and these lively things can bring into my life is definitely valuable.”

This isn’t the first time Dormont has designed a mural, and she doesn’t plan on this one being her last. She created a mural in high school as her senior project. After taking a gap year between high school and college, she spent a year honing her art skills. Last year, while taking another gap year, Dormont produced two murals for a project that involved redesigning a room in 24 hours.

Dormont also wants to continue pursuing her passion for art in whatever way she can. She says that all art forms are connected to each other.

“I don’t think any art form stands alone,” Dormont said. “I don’t think my artistic passions are separate. I think they’re really tied together, and I grow off of both of them. There’s a lot of room for understanding between these two mediums, too, which is really nice.”

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About the Author

Mackenzie Cullen

Sadly, Mackenzie graduated from Penn State in 2022. She majored in English and served as one of Onward State's associate editors. You can keep up with her life and send compliments to @MackenzieC__ on Twitter.

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