Alley Art Project: Heroes

Celebrating the youth heroes in our community!  

The 2023 Alley Art Project highlights the significant impact of young people empowering and influencing society. The Rockwell Museum, in collaboration with the High School Learning Center (HSLC) of the Corning-Painted Post Area School District and SUNY Corning Community College (CCC), worked with students and Teaching Mural Artist Sarah C. Rutherford to design a public art mural in our community. Rockwell Collection artist Martine Gutierrez is the source of inspiration for this year’s mural project. The theme explores who a hero can be and how heroes show up in our personal lives, the community and the world. This student exhibition celebrates the 15th Alley Art Project! Students created individual self-portraits. Elements from the student work are incorporated into the mural design.  

Alley Art Project: Heroes is on view in The Rockwell’s Student Gallery from May 10 – September 10, 2023.

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Gutierrez is a hero! In her art, she works to change how people are represented in pop culture and mainstream media. Students studied Demons, Xochipilli ‘The Flower Prince’ (page 91 from Indigenous Woman Magazine) in The Rockwell’s collection. Magazines, historically, have not always been inclusive of all genders, people of color and people of diverse cultural heritage. Gutierrez creates a visual narrative for others to see themselves represented in society. She brings attention to the fluidity of gender and identity, as well as social ideals of beauty, race and class embedded in our culture. It makes us question our own identities.  How do we fit in? Or do we not fit in with social norms? 

Gutierrez radiates pride and confidence in her bold self-portrait. She incorporates symbols that represent her Maya heritage, including bright flowers, silver and turquoise jewelry and a traditional “huipile” Guatemalan blouse. Students in mural design class created self-portraits with symbols that represent their own stories. They used photography, collage, and acrylic painting. Students incorporated mixed-media iconography that represents their unique identities and portrays themselves as heroes.  

2023 Mural Design Rendition 
Mural Location: Marconi Lodge, 26 W Pulteney St, Corning, NY 14830

The central figure in the rendered design is a portrait of HSLC graduate student, Salem Estrada. He was nominated by the students in the mural design class. Although the design depicts one person, the overall message of the mural is about resiliency, persevering through life’s hardships, inspiring others to be their best selves, embracing love, showing gratitude, being courageous, being unapologetic and making room for the many parts or multitudes of our identities as we grow. Salem is a visual representative of what a youth hero stands for and how a young hero can uplift and inspire others.  

Created by Artist Sarah C. Rutherford


Pulling elements from students’ self-portraits, Sarah C. Rutherford incorporated symbols centered around transformation, growth and cycles. The sun and moon, as well as themes of darkness and light, showed up in many of the students’ work. These became central themes in the mural. The scene is set over water to ground the mural in place as the Chemung River flows a few streets behind the mural. It also references the relationship many of the students spoke of with the natural world.  

Salem is centrally located with a fierce yet loving gaze on the viewer, kissed in sunlight on the left and glowing in moonlight on the right. His hand is outstretched with light emanating as another hand reaches down from above. This gesture represents the passing of the torch to the next generation, with the words “You will get through this” placed between the two hands. 

The mural will be painted this summer, culminating in a ribbon-cutting ceremony in mid-August. Visit for more information.  

 See yourself as a hero!

  • What pictures or words come to mind when you hear the word HERO? 
  • What is one thing about yourself that you are proud of? 
  • What are you grateful for? 
  • What inspires you? 

 About Artist Sarah C. Rutherford  

Sarah C. Rutherford

For the past fifteen years, Sarah C. Rutherford has worked in her chosen community of Rochester, NY as a muralist, painter, educator, and community- based artist. This work has taken many forms, including co-founding THE YARDS Collaborative Art Space, co-founding ROC PAINT Division, Rochester’s city-funded youth mural arts employment program, and implementing the comprehensive public art project, Her Voice Carries which features local women who are lifting up the voices of others.  

Most recently, she has been awarded a Creative Rebuild NY grant in partnership with Willow Domestic Violence Center to expand her multifaceted public art project, Stories of Strength, which directly engages and works alongside survivors of domestic violence. The work will honor survivors’ journeys of healing while simultaneously bringing attention to the pervasiveness of domestic violence in the Monroe County community. She is also currently completing her MFA in Interdisciplinary Art through the University of New Mexico. 

The Rockwell Museum is grateful and excited to work with Sarah on the 2023 Alley Art Project connecting the thread of “heroes” to the mural design. Sarah is committed to working in collaboration and making art more accessible by bringing it outside traditional art spaces. This work ethic aligns with the mission and vision of The Rockwell to show how the multifaceted nature of experience can be a source for dialogue and conversation, a force for cultural acceptance and a tool for mutual understanding. 

About Alley Art Project

The Alley Art Project is a special collaboration between The Rockwell Museum, the High School Learning Center (HSLC) of the Corning-Painted Post Area School District and SUNY Corning Community College (CCC).  

Each year, students create individual works of art that evolve into components of one cohesive mural design that is painted in the Corning community. Students earn arts credits and community service hours toward their high school diploma or college transcript by participating in the mural design course held at the Museum. Students spend time with professional artists and Rockwell educators to research, study art in The Rockwell’s collection, learn about symbolism and design and explore aspects of individual and community identity. The Alley Art Project supports students through the vigorous process of designing and producing public art – all the while cultivating a sense of belonging in the community.  There is emphasis on developing citizenship skills and civic pride by sharing public art with the wider region. The holistic program integrates using the arts for exploration and expression without judgment, fostering safe dialogue and developing a stronger sense of self.  

Public art transcends the boundaries of the museum walls and makes art accessible to everyone. The Rockwell believes that public art has the power to bring people together, encourage conversation, share diverse perspectives and ignite the imagination. With ongoing feedback from community residents and leaders, this program increases the potential for academic success as confidence and wellbeing improves. The Alley Art Project is an excellent opportunity for students to strengthen their connection to the community in which they live and meaningfully contribute to the aesthetics of the city.

Generous support is provided by The Triangle Fund and by the Community Foundation of Elmira-Corning and the Finger Lakes, Inc. 



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