When a mural by Lea Gorny, ’18, filled a wall on campus last year, it seemingly set a precedent for future public art. Gorny even said she was “petitioning for next year’s seniors to each get to paint their own mural” in a previous Octagon article.
And that was accomplished — minus the “each.” Despite receiving four proposals this year from AP Art Studio students, head of school Lee Thomsen and the administration approved only one: senior Bella Mathisen’s.
One is better than none. But since multiple other artists had ideas for injecting color and creativity into our beige-ridden campus, we’re left wondering: Why were the other proposals rejected?
Thomsen didn’t give explanations for individual murals, although he did say he wanted to “take a pause.”
“Let’s think forward in terms of having a system (for approving murals),” he said.
Yet that same focus on the future is undermining the power of the present. The time for “thinking forward” has already passed — that was the time between Gorny’s mural and this year.
Thinking now should be the focus of the administration. Now there is a class of established senior artists at Country Day; their talent can bring back the school’s personality, which was lost when Thomsen had the three original murals painted over three years ago.
When visitors step onto our campus, they should know what we stand for. Country Day has never been a Division I athletic school, although we do have skilled athletes. But we also have artists, musicians, actors, writers and countless other talents. Most students even belong to several of these groups — because Country Day helps students foster the creativity to be whoever they want.
However, this can’t be achieved with Country Day’s barren campus. Its walls are blank, and while that provides a clean look, it also looks empty.
Furthermore, research points to murals cultivating spirit and improving learning environments; a 2010 article in the American Journal of Public Health even correlated visual art with improving mental and physical health. Such feedback has prompted the revamping of cities across the U.S. — including Sacramento. In past years, public art has sprung up by the dozens on the sides of buildings in downtown Sac.
Colleges have caught on to the phenomenon as well: The University of California, Berkeley (UCB) and the University of California, Santa Barbara (UCSB) have murals throughout their campuses.
If California’s universities realize the benefits of murals, we should too. Our campus is well-maintained, but with only two murals, it will never reach the vibrant, creative environment that Country Day otherwise boasts.
So if the fear is that our walls will be filled too quickly by student art, let’s take a cue from Santa Barbara. Recently, UCSB’s Residence Halls Association started a tradition of using rotating mural panels outside. On campus, there’s a wide wall with large murals mounted on it, side by side.
Similarly, mural panels could be mounted on the sprawling blank walls at Country Day, such as the ones leading to the back field and garden.
That idea was given to Thomsen, according to art teacher Andy Cunningham, and we hope it goes into effect in future years.
Regardless, immediate change is best, and there is one way that can be achieved: collaboration.
Although the administration should screen proposals, part of the decision should lie with the student body. Students are the majority milling around campus, so they deserve a say in what decorates it.
Also, given that few students have seen the proposed mural ideas by this year’s seniors, it’s possible that a popular idea has been passed up simply because Thomsen has the final vote.
Ultimately, we want our student body to be able to express itself, but the few explanations and conditions that have been given — saying that people still need time to think, or that murals should stay up only a few years — don’t fulfill that wish.
If there is a large group of artists about to graduate, we need to take advantage. Country Day is unusual in that its graduating classes are small, and each brings unique talents to the table; traditionally, those talents are showcased in sports events, plays, concerts or other endeavors.
For aspiring muralists, however, that tradition is falling short. And that’s the bare, beige truth.