Muralista!: Installation Complete

Panel #3 begun - an installation shot taken by one of my friends as they passed by.

Panel #3 begun – an installation shot taken by one of my friends as they passed by

My timeline this semester was as follows: March 10 – Discovery meetings March 29 – I received final approval for installation from the Committee on Student Life April 12 – I picked up my paint from Mo Gallagher @ Facilities April 17 – I started install of Panel #2 – finished on May 1, 14 days total on install April 30 – I started install of Panel #1 – finished on May 9, 9 days total on install May 8 – I started install of Panel #3 – finished on May 12, 4 days total on install Discovery meeting recap: We tried a traditional discovery meeting first: in the lobby of Hill on a Friday afternoon, with a GHD and the head of ResLife in attendance. Only two people showed up, and they were both friends I’d asked to come. I don’t think the people who walked by were aware that it was a meeting, either. After about half an hour, we gave up. After that, I thought we should do a more informal approach. So on March 10, right before spring break, I sat in the Hill House lobby for two and a half hours with copies of my concept art, and asked everyone who walked past to talk about the project with me. I spoke to around 20 students and residents during that time, and made notes of any feedback past “good project”:
  • “This is great! This building… it needs something. It really needs something.”
  • “I’m glad you’re doing it, these walls are so white.”
  • “I think that’s a great idea, murals would be great.”
  • “I’m not a very creative person but that looks really pretty.”
  • “I feel like people don’t know the history of these spaces (ie Common Ground and Westlands). I’m just starting to figure it out now. (Being a first year POC) is really hard, and isolating. (This project) is great. Thank you.”
  • “I love it, I think it’s going to be so awesome.”
  • “It’ll be awesome to have some people of color on these white walls… especially because first years in Hill… we don’t go out as much.”
  • “I really like it, the colors are good too.”
  • “These colors are great!”
My concept art looked like this:
Panel1CONCEPT

Panel #1: The sit-in at Westlands in 1989, led by Concerned Students of Color.

Panel #2 - my friend Lindsey dancing at a show during the fall semester.

Panel #2 – my friend Lindsey dancing at a show during the fall semester.

Panel #3 - my friends Karen and Martine in Common Ground, a space created from the demands of the 1989 sit-in.

Panel #3 – my friends Karen and Martine in Common Ground, a space created from the demands of the 1989 sit-in.

Moving forward: With feedback from discovery meetings, I felt confident moving into the installation process. I met with the Committee on Student Life on March 29 and presented my project to them. They also had an overwhelmingly positive response, and voted to allow my installation and to keep it up indefinitely. Having received that final permission, I went to head of Facilities, Mo Gallagher, who’d promised to buy some of the paint I’d use for the project. She bought me five gallons of paint in eggshell finish, and a gallon of anti-graffiti topcoat. I picked it up on April 12 and brought it to my studio. Then I began the process of transferring my concept art to the walls of Hill. To place outlines in such a narrow hallway, I created 9’ x 4’ sheets of paper in Heimbold, projected my reference images onto the paper, and traced them with an extra-soft pencil. I brought the tracings to the hallway in Hill, hung them on the wall, and rubbed over the lines with a paintbrush handle to place an outline. I used that outline as a skeleton, providing a basic structure for the images to develop within. Installation recap: All I can say is wow. This was a really intense, draining experience in ways that I didn’t anticipate. I had a ton of fun doing it – I was able to blast music and play around with colors and watch an empty space be filled in by motion and history and color. But at the same time, it was a struggle to get it all done. There were time constraints that meant loooong and sleepless nights working alone under the fluorescent lights, hundreds of people walking through my worksite every day and often offering unsolicited advice, and difficulty with paint – both in mixing dozens of colors from a limited palette, and with the physical supplies, which vandals kicked over late at night while I napped in another room. Despite those challenges, it was a transformative and rewarding experience: watching the first reactions people had to color being added, hearing everyone’s pleasure as the panels filled in and the project progressed, and ultimately hearing from a few people that they were looking forward to living in Hill next year, because of the murals. I am immensely grateful to have ended my time at Sarah Lawrence like this. Snapshots from installation:
Post mortem: I am still recovering from this project and don’t know if I have the space to do an appropriate post-mortem. But I’ll give it my best shot: In retrospect, I should have put the side by side murals on the opposite wall. People rounding the corner from the parking lot entrance of Hill saw that side first, and there was a lot of empty space that was left unfilled that looks a little strange. I would, in the future, try to avoid at all costs doing an installation like this in three weeks. I didn’t sleep at all the last week of working, and spent more than a few nights during the weeks previous curled up on the closest sofa for a quick nap before going back to work. Next time I would like to make more direct visual overlap between the three images – without any contextualizing text or information, there aren’t a lot of obvious links between them. In the future, doing a triptych of this sort, I would spend more time putting the images into a cohesive pattern. It’s been a pleasure doing this exhausting, frustrating, incredible project. I am a different artist and person than I was before I started it. I’m sad that I won’t be around to see how next year’s Hill residents react to it, but I’m sure I’ll hear about it from them at some point.