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Mural featuring Elsa Núñez graces downtown Willimantic

Published on June 03, 2024

Mural featuring Elsa Núñez graces downtown Willimantic

Attendees of the May 30 dedication ceremony gather for a group photo beneath the mural depicting Toni Morrison, Elsa Núñez and Ella Grasso in downtown Willimantic.

A massive mural depicting three pioneering women was unveiled in downtown Willimantic on May 30 during a dedication ceremony. The 50-foot painting by renowned muralist Ben Keller, located on the parking garage at 17 Walnut Street, features former Eastern President Elsa Núñez, former Governor Ella Grasso and acclaimed novelist Toni Morrison.

The painting is based on a famous mural in Spain called "Unity is Strength," depicting several influential women from around the world. “Our (mural) highlights three women who have a more local attachment to Connecticut,” explained Matthew Vertefeuille, secretary of Windham Public Art (WPA), the local nonprofit spearheading the project.

Núñez was the first Latina university president in New England, retiring this May after leading Eastern for 18 years. Grasso was Connecticut’s first woman governor and Morrison is a Nobel Prize-winning author and the first Black female editor at Random House, who attended Yale University and spent most of her professional life in the Northeast.

A local historian helped determine the subjects of the mural, with Núñez the first selection due to her impact on the Willimantic community as president of Eastern.

“When I found out about this mural, I thought ‘I’m not in that league,’” said Núñez in an emotional address to the crowd. “But you’ve validated me and shown me that my work over the years has meant something. Thank you for honoring me; I’ll never forget it until the day I close my eyes.”

Under Núñez’s leadership, Eastern prioritized community engagement, with students, faculty and staff volunteering countless hours of community service and supporting local businesses/organizations with internships and numerous other partnerships.

Núñez addresses the crowd.

Attendees of the May 30 dedication ceremony gather for a group photo beneath the mural.

“What an incredible and transformative leader for Eastern and this community over the last two decades,” said State Senator Mae Flexer at the May 30 dedication. “Few people have had a bigger impact on Willimantic than Elsa Núñez — how appropriate that she’s being honored in this way.”

“Elsa has a long relationship of working with the town, bringing the talents of Eastern students and faculty into the community,” said Chris McNaboe, treasurer of WPA and CEO of Horizons. “She’s helped Willimantic develop and formed a lot of connections. This (mural) started with Elsa and blossomed after that. She’s also a fierce supporter of art, bringing art into the lives of many people. For her to be the subject of public art is fitting as well.”

The mural was paid for by Windham Public Art with funding support from the Pageau Trust and Rise Up, a Hartford-based mural group that received a grant from Hartford HealthCare to help fund the Willimantic mural. The artist is Connecticut-based muralist Ben Keller, who worked with Rene Montalvo, a tattoo artist from Willimantic’s Eminence Ink.

Like the original mural, the Willimantic version includes the tag line “Las capacidades no dependen de tu género,” which translates to “Your ability doesn’t depend on your gender.”

Written by Michael Rouleau

Categories: Administration