Seven ways to say ‘Welcome’

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International Student Center mural completed by Atlanta artist

According to Atlanta artist Ralph “rEN” Dillard, art has the ability to break down structures—both real and imagined—that hold people back from their true potential.

“My work’s grand theme is unlearning,” Dillard said. “It deals with breaking down the social constructs or social agreements that hold people in a reality or a life they aren’t aligned with. My work is all about getting the viewer to understand who they truly are.”

Beginning this school year, students at DeKalb County School District’s International Student Center (ISC)—located at 3318 Midway Road—will be greeted by Dillard’s latest work as they enter the building.

Dillard was commissioned by ISC principal Alexander Russell to paint a mural near the school’s entrance.

The mural states “Welcome” in seven languages and includes a globe made of 50 different flags.

Dillard said the project was near to his heart because it helps students throughout the school day.

“As an artist, I was introverted at school. I know how it feels to be ostracized,” Dillard said. “It makes me feel good knowing my work is helping students—students from another part of the world—feel better about being at school.”

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According to Dillard, the mural proved to be a physical and mental challenge. He had to stay in one position for a long time and provide intricate details to make sure flags were correctly represented.

Dillard also had to paint while students registered and received live feedback from stakeholders.

“It was really intense to create,” Dillard said. “This was the first time I had to paint in multiple languages.

Students and parents were there looking and asking questions, providing nuances and corrections. From a technical standpoint, it’s difficult to be put on that stage. It’s already difficult by myself, but with that much critique, it made it that much more difficult.”

According to Dillard, near the mural’s completion, just as with many pictures, cheers and commendations were given to him by students, parents and teachers.

“The feedback has been tremendous,” Dillard said. “Teachers have commented on the vibrant colors. It’s really brightened up the hallway in an area that’s already well lit. Between that, the parents, students, teachers and others cheering me on as I was painting, it was a wonderful experience.”

Dillard said the mural helped him grow as an artist by placing him in a situation he had never been in before, adding “extra lumps of muscle as an artist.”

“For me, it’s not a job, it’s something I love to do. I don’t see things as difficult, but as things that help me grow,” Dillard said. “This forced me to do something I had not done before. It was something that forced me to look at my art differently.”

Growing as an artist, for Dillard, began in childhood and has not ended. His earliest memory is drawing a ram on his mother’s phonebook. From there, he moved on to singing, songwriting and writing poetry. It was not until 2006 in Philadelphia, Pa., that Dillard developed a love for painting.

Today, Dillard has three standing exhibitions at South Fulton mayor Bill Edwards’ office, the South Fulton Art Center Gallery’s opening OnyxCon, and an opening titled Mythos at Gallery 992. Dillard is also working on painting three “Pianos for Peace,” which will be placed in locations throughout Atlanta for public use.

For more information about Ralph “rEN” Dillard, visit

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