Moving from Mexico to Make Art

MariJo Miranda (BFA ’21) began exploring art in elementary school as a way to express herself and connect with her peers.

“None of my classmates liked me and they were bullying me so I had to find another way and they were impressed by what my abilities were,” said the first year BFA student. “They started pushing me to do more and it helped me to communicate with them and I realized I was good at something.”

Miranda, born and raised in Mexico, knew she wanted to study art in the United States. An aunt lives in Philadelphia and invited her to visit schools one summer during high school.


  • MariJo Miranda
    MariJo Miranda

A visit to PAFA’s Sculpture department and foundry piqued her interest.

“I saw it was an artistic environment and I felt they were going to push me and teach me the basics.”

Her parents were reluctant to allow her study art so far from home, with her dad encouraging her to study art in Mexico and offering to buy Miranda a car if she stayed close to home.

But after spending five weeks studying at PAFA through the Summer Academy for high school students, Miranda knew where she belonged.

The program allowed her to try out the PAFA experience and make a more educated decision about the next step in her life.

“We had whole days of drawing, sculpture, and painting, then they took us on Wednesdays to different cities, such as Washington D.C., New York, and also galleries in Philly,” she said. “They were teaching us how to enter the art world and what the art world is like, it’s not just some classes.”

Now in her first year at PAFA, Miranda is diving deeper into her art practice. PAFA’s foundation year curriculum is allowing her to explore new avenues of creativity.

“Coming here I thought I was going to do printmaking and a minor in sculpture but then I realized I wanted to major in sculpture and minor in painting, and then do the print program too,” she said. “It really works to do the Foundation year.”

Miranda plans to push herself even further with her sculpture work. She plans to enroll in the PAFA-Penn Program and study engineering to improve her art.

She said painting professors Al Gury and Michael Gallagher are pushing her artistically but are quick to provide support.

“Every time I’m scared to use the palette knife Al says use it and then he tells me I’m doing well. He’s pushing me and motivating me,” she said. “I used to hate oil painting but Michael Gallagher made me paint with oil. He said ‘You’re not going to paint on a small canvas, here is a big canvas’ and it was huge.”

She misses home but says the support of the family she has in Philadelphia and family she’s created at PAFA has helped her adjust.

“You make your family here and they support you and they’re here for you.”