New murals bring vibrancy, sense of unity to the South Side

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There is a bit more color on walls around South Side Bethlehem, thanks to five new murals completed in the area at the end of the summer.

According to the Morning Call, artist Devyn Briggs’ mural is outside of Lehigh Pizza, Amy Perdue’s mural is at Bonn Place Brewing, Joseph Iacona’s mural is at Molly’s Irish Grille and Sports Pub, and Ramiro Davaro-Comas’ and Maltas con Leche’s murals both stand at South Side Lofts.

Maltas con Leche is a family of artists who have been officially creating artwork together since 2012. As a group, they expressed gratitude for the artistic opportunities that exists in the Lehigh Valley and espoused the power art has in bringing communities together.

Rafael Menendez, member of Maltas con Leche, said he saw art’s community-building power firsthand when he worked on another mural in Bethlehem’s Yosko Park. 

“In the course of three days, we had been able to influence the local kids from fighting, to joining us to paint,” Menendez said. “We had been exposed to bullying going on, hunger and more… (but) the kids worked together and can say they painted on the wall of the park (where) they play.”

For its mural at South Side Lofts, Maltas con Leche collaborated with Lehigh students to develop the concept — a Lehigh Mountain Hawk surrounded by images and symbols of South Bethlehem.

Despite the fact that so many people were involved in the mural’s creation, Sour Panda Menendez of Maltas con Leche said each contributor was able to add their own “personal flair” to the project. 

“There’s no deep meaning behind our piece, but I hope people see that you can come together with people to create something great that can touch others,” Sour Panda Menendez said.

While they are receptive to the idea of having more public art in the South Side and appreciative of the value it brings to the Bethlehem community, some Lehigh students are skeptical about whether or not the new installations will resonate on campus.

“I’m an artist myself, (and) I love the ideas of murals on the South Side,” Sara Kozlu, ‘20, said. “But to benefit the community, I think they can do community projects… empower through the actual act of doing the art and expression.” 

Kozlu’s idea is similar to the project Rafael Menendez described with children at Yosko Park, where he noted art’s true community-building capabilities.

While some speculate that creating public murals could be a way to bridge the gap between Lehigh and the rest of the South Side, Brandon Judge, ‘21, thinks the divide is more difficult to overcome.

“I think Lehigh students are ultimately disconnected and uninvolved in the South Side community because of the clear class disparity,” Judge said. “Unfortunately, that runs deep and I’m not sure that public art installations can fix that.”

While the installations’ impact may not permeate the entire Lehigh community, they offer a means for artists to showcase their talent and love for South Bethlehem.

“Wherever you go (in the Lehigh Valley) you’ll see art. It’s what brings a community together,” said Frida Menendez, another member of Maltas con Leche. “Down in the Lehigh Valley, we have strong community-based art where everybody can get involved.”

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