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Mops, brooms, bleach, and colored pencils: the creative life of a GRCC custodian

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Five days a week, Mark Fortuna goes about his daily tasks as a custodian in the library at Grand Rapids Community College. Going in and out of offices, cleaning them, surrounded by his art.

Fortuna has drawn many different characters for library faculty spanning from Star Wars characters, Frida Kahlo, Billie Eilish, Edward Scissorhands, and The Joker among others.

After being a custodian at GRCC for 17 years, Fortuna’s artistic talent has finally come to the light and is being recognized by the GRCC library faculty.

“I didn’t expect the reaction I got,” said Fortuna. “It’s pretty flattering.”

Fortuna recalled that it just happened naturally in conversation, and after that he started getting requests.

“I think there’s that part of the artistic side of people, that they don’t want to reveal that part of themselves, because you feel so exposed,” said Toni Harrington, assistant to the Associate Dean of Student Success and Retention.

Mark Fortuna with his artwork. Sabrina Edwards | The Collegiate Live

While Fortuna prefers to draw images based on classical horror movies, he’s getting a variety of requests.

“When I started doing stuff here everybody has their thing that they want drawn when they see that I can draw,” said Fortuna. “It’s funny. I’ll draw something for somebody but then I’ll get into that, even if I’m not interested in that to begin with.”

Around the library, Fortuna has a very supportive fan base.

“I could see him teaching art somewhere, because of the level of detail, the accuracy,” said Brian Beecher, Director of GRCC’s Library and Learning Commons. “I would swear that he is tracing these things out of a book.”

Currently, Fortuna isn’t commissioning his work, but working off of requests from his co-workers.

“I’m trying to get him to create an Etsy store,” said Harrington. “I value his work so much that I’ve tried to pay him, but he won’t accept it because of our friendship.”

After seeing all of the interest in his art, Fortuna is now looking towards figuring out how to sell his artwork.

Some of Mark Fortuna’s artwork. Sabrina Edwards

“I think we’re very lucky to have him on our staff here,” said Beecher. “He’s a great employee and yet he had this talent, that nobody knew about. He is very humble.”

Fortuna recalled his favorite artist, Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio, and how his work makes people feel emotion. Now, it’s Fortuna’s art that is evoking emotion.

“He truly is an excellent representation of what GRCC is and a great role model for people,” said Beecher. “He’s a great person and an example of what kind of talent and people work at GRCC.”