By Julia Konow
Worcester State University student Jennifer Sullivan was sitting at a table in the student center to complete assignments for her classes. Before she began typing feverishly on her laptop, she noticed the new mural additions on the walls of the Student Center, ranging from an astronaut on the moon, to bright splashes of color, to whimsical hands reaching towards each other.
“I love the murals,” said Sullivan, a 21-year-old senior studying psychology at Worcester State University. “It honestly just brings a light to the student center. They are colorful and bright. They really pop.”
Three new murals were added to the Worcester State University student center by local student artists at the beginning of the semester to promote the message of acceptance, individuality, and diversity on campus.
The murals were completed at the end of winter break and were officially unveiled at a ceremony on Jan. 30, 2019. The artwork was sponsored and supported by the Marketing Office and the Campus Climate Committee, as well as the Visual and Performing Arts Department, in order to represent the inclusive environment at Worcester State University.
“The suggested theme for the murals that we used was the University’s ongoing involvement to have a diverse, inclusive, and multicultural institution that is welcoming to all,” said Michael Hachey, a professor in the Visual and Performing Arts Department who has worked at Worcester State University for 27 years. “The murals represent that we are all different and welcome. Individuality is respected.”
Hachey was the faculty advisor who oversaw the entire process and completion of the three Student Center murals. The Visual and Performing Arts Department had been hoping to create murals on campus for a long time, and this year the Marketing Office was looking to add student-generated murals to Worcester State University.
“We had received feedback from students that they wanted more visible and tangible representations of inclusion on campus,” said Sarah McMaster, the director of marketing in the enrollment management division who has worked at Worcester State University for about two years. “The murals are a reminder that acceptance is one of our core values. As an institution, we prioritize not only having a diverse student body but we also make sure that all students feel welcome.”
This granted Hachey the opportunity to find willing students and artists to create murals for the campus. Worcester State University visual and performing arts faculty spread the word about the mural project and asked for interested artists to come forward. Three artists chose to participate in the creation of the Student Center murals.
One of these artists is Daniel Acuña, who is majoring in visual and performing arts with a concentration in art and a minor in theater at Worcester State University. Another artist is Louise McGee, a retired public school art teacher, who has been actively taking art courses at Worcester State University. The third muralist is Worcester native Bradley Chapman, a Massachusetts College of Art and Design graduate and visiting artist, who attended visual and performing arts courses that were taught by Worcester State University professor Stacey Parker.
“For several weeks the other artists and I would bring in sketches and all of us would bounce ideas off of each other,” said Acuña, a 30-year-old senior at Worcester State University. “Each mural reflects the artistic style of each designing artist, yet we all helped with the minor details and gave our criticism and input when asked for.”
The three artists started the mural process by designing, researching, and discussing the initial sketches. Gradually, aspects of their original sketches were added and deleted as the artwork evolved throughout the fall 2018 semester. Group critiques allowed for the artists to talk about the positive and negative aspects of each piece. They used full color sketches and 3D models as the artwork progressed. The murals would be created with non-toxic acrylic paint, as opposed to spray paint, due to the indoor location. After deciding on the specific designs that would be used at the end of the fall semester, the artists tirelessly painted the murals during winter break.
“Before the murals, students would just walk through the Student Center without looking around,” said Sullivan. “These new murals let students appreciate art and have something interesting to look at.”
Acuña’s mural sits above a section of tables at the Student Center, and it depicts an astronaut on the moon looking at various flags. Hachey believes that this specific piece of artwork with the iconic image of a man on the moon helps to emphasize the importance of diversity and that all of humanity should be represented. Chapman’s mural, which reads “You Are Welcome Here,” depicts many different types of hands while delivering a message about individuality and acceptance. Hachey sees this mural as one that deals with the serious topic of inclusion, yet also allows for a humorous spin because the artwork includes robot and fish hands alongside human hands. McGee’s mural is a colorful and energetic piece that highlights creative expression and unity.
“McGee’s mural includes nuggets of expression that unite us all,” said Hachey. “The message is about peace, love, carpe diem, and that it is okay to express yourself.”
Each of the artists individually designed a mural while helping each other to complete the project in various ways. The three pieces of art are all unique from each other, yet they still highlight the intended theme of acceptance and inclusivity. Walking throughout the Worcester State University Student Center or sitting at a table to study, students can observe the intricate and unique murals. Many students are satisfied with the new addition of public art and felt as though the Student Center has been improved because of it.
“I like all the murals because it brings more life to the Student Center,” said Allison Koelho, a 21-year-old senior at Worcester State University who works as an information desk attendant in the Student Center. “Murals are interesting to look at and are a nice addition to the building.”
Koelho is not the only Worcester State University student who feels as though the new murals have improved and complimented the atmosphere of the Student Center.
“I was really excited to see the murals,” said Brittany Clark, a 22-year-old senior studying occupational therapy at Worcester State University. “Murals are beautiful to look at and they make it more fun to be in the Student Center. It feels friendly.”
Clark went on to describe that she has always appreciated art, even as a young child, so the three new murals done by local artists were a welcome surprise that improved the campus.
“It is wonderful to have public works and art by students,” said Hachey. “Whether you are a resident or commuter, students get ownership on campus. It’s a place where individuals can express themselves at a large scale.”
Hachey explained that the reasonably sized blank walls in the building allowed for the artistic opportunity. When deciding where the murals should be located, the Student Center was deemed as an appropriate choice because many students would be able to see them.
“It’s a highly trafficked place,” said McMaster. “Students eat, study, and visit offices in the Student Center. Any student, residential or not, can come in and have contact with the murals.”
The recent murals on the Worcester State University campus are reflective of the mural culture that has gained traction in the city of Worcester. The POW! WOW! Worcester nonprofit organization was formed by a committee of local community members with a passion for the arts. This organization hosts an annual festival that celebrates culture and art within Worcester each summer by creating murals across the city and simultaneously attracting thousands of people for the festivities. Artists come from various countries to contribute to the public art of Worcester. According to MassLive, over 80 pieces of art have been created since the organization began in 2016, and the mural culture is still continuing. In 2018, Worcester gained over 30 murals and art installations across the city through the POW! WOW! Worcester organization.
“The city of Worcester has supported the painting of murals around Worcester,” said Hachey. “If you drive downtown you can see spectacular murals. There’s a kind of renaissance in the creation of murals in Worcester that livens public space and makes for an artful community.”
According to Americans for the Arts, a nonprofit organization that supports the advancement of the arts in the United States of America, public art can prove to be extremely beneficial to society. It helps to humanize the building with works that support cultural and creative individuality. This allows for the public to connect to and appreciate a building in their community, while also contributing to the identity of public spaces. Public art can lead to a greater acceptance and understanding of the diversity within society, something which can now be experienced at Worcester State University.
“Even college students can still enjoy art,” said Clark. “We are still young and it reminds us to not take life so seriously. These murals help with that.”
Clark hopes to see more murals across the campus, like in Sullivan Academic Center, in the coming years to display more student artwork and bring creativity to the campus. But Clark is not the only Worcester State University student who hopes to see more murals in the near future.
“I would love to see more murals on campus,” said Sullivan. “Everyone is often off in their own world and I don’t think that people always think about what happens on campus. But murals help to bring the community together.”
Hachey also would like for there to be more exterior and interior murals added around campus in the coming years. He explained that there are blank walls on the Sullivan Academic Center Auditorium that would be an adequate canvas for future murals.
“I hope that we get to do more murals in the future,” said McMaster. “They make me smile. It has been a privilege to be involved all the way through the process. The artwork is amazing and I am really excited to have them on campus.”
McMaster explained that this year’s mural project was considered a pilot to see how it would go. The Marketing Office will use the information gathered about the process, as well as feedback from students and faculty, to expand and support the creation of more murals and public artwork at Worcester State University.
“I could go on about area beautification and aesthetics, but I think what people take from the murals is subjective and could be different for everyone,” said Acuña. “I’m sure that some won’t even take a second glance but others may be inspired or motivated. All I can hope for is that we made the campus a more comfortable place to learn.”