Spring on the York College campus

Creating a Sense of Community through Murals

Joe Young stands in front of a brightly colored mural painted on the side of the Azteca restaurant. The mural reads

Joe Young ’20 (York, PA) remembers watching the murals pop up around York’s Royal Square District. He saw them breathe life and vibrancy into the up-and-coming neighborhood. He had an idea. Could murals ignite a similar spark around campus? 

“It felt like some of the buildings along Grantley Road were very dark and didn’t have much going on,” he says. “They acted as a barrier instead of a bridge between the College and the nearby community.” York College’s Great to Greater grant program sought solutions to fix that problem. Young, an Entrepreneurship and Innovation major, submitted an application. 

“Murals can have a limitless effect on an infinite amount of people,” he says. “Murals create a sense of community, and I wanted to replicate that here.” After winning the grant, he needed an artist. He found Matthew Apol, a 2007 YCP graduate and recipient of the 2017 Appell Arts Fellowship. 

“When I heard Joe’s vision, I became hooked,” Apol says. “We wanted to brighten up that neighborhood since it doesn’t get as much attention.” They put out a call for artists and received a design from student Alexis Czaplinski ’20 (Glen Rock, PA). The pair tweaked the idea more than 100 times before settling on the final draft. Last summer, Apol painted the mural on the side of Azteca Mexican Grill. It depicts a picture of the world with the word “Coalesce” painted across it. 

The mural went up a few days before the beginning of the fall semester. Young raised awareness by including it in a scavenger hunt for students. The first 100 students who posted a photo from the mural won a free burrito. “We wanted to show that the College and community could coalesce and come together,” he says. “We wanted to include everyone — to let the globe be a common unifier for everything.” 

Young’s project has expanded to include two more murals. The next stages — “Evolve” and “Flourish” — should be ready for painting in summer 2020. “When we as a community coalesce, that’s when people can evolve and flourish,” he says. A local artist will paint the “Evolve” mural using the artist’s interpretation of the theme. Community panels will decide on the “Flourish” design, he says. The project keeps him busy. He spends hours meeting with community members and faculty to get everything moving.

“Joe’s going to be an important part of this next group involved in the City’s revitalization,” Apol says. “He’s got a great attitude, and he’s not afraid to get his hands dirty to help an idea get done.” 

Dominic DelliCarpini, PhD, serves as Young’s advisor on the murals. As Dean of the Center for Community Engagement, he believes the first mural is already doing its job. “A lot of colleges have an uneasy relationship with the towns around them,” DelliCarpini says. “The mural is a thank-you to the community for supporting and welcoming our students.” 

Young will graduate in 2020 and he hopes to use the murals as a capstone for his college career. “I want to leave a mark on the College before I leave here,” he says. “I hope it shows that the area is alive and well. People should know there are interesting things not only at the College, but also in the community around it.”