‘Big Walls’ provides big opportunities

While the college is preparing to roll out its new branding initiative, Columbia students and alumni are doing branding work for the college on their own. Members of the Columbia community are working on 17 new murals that will decorate the South Loop in time for the Manifest Urban Arts Festival on May 13 as part of the Big Walls project, as reported April 25 by The Chronicle.

The WAC launched in 2013 under the oversight of Mark Kelly, vice president of Student Success, and is already home to 20 murals and 10 art installations. The 17 new murals to be painted by students, alumni and local and international artists—add artistic identity to the campus otherwise absent from Columbia’s urban setting.

Through the WAC, Columbia differentiates its campus from the rest of the South Loop, signaling this is a very special place, Kelly said during an April 25 meeting with The Chronicle’s Editorial Board.

Big Walls accomplishes what Columbia should be known for—offering platforms to share art and spark conversations through artistic collaboration. 

Having DePaul and Roosevelt universities participate in the project will build a sense of community in the South Loop, Kelly said, but it raises an important question: Why doesn’t Columbia take more ownership of this project? If other colleges want to get on board, the project is obviously successful.

While Big Walls only receives $15,000 from the college, Kelly has raised more than $90,000 in sponsorships and donations for the project, Kelly said.

Recognizing the opportunity the WAC and Big Walls have to develop a campus identity and establish Columbia’s presence, the college should consider investing greater resources into the initiatives.

Through objectives outlined in the Strategic Plan and other college initiatives like the planning of Columbia’s upcoming student center, the college has demonstrated an interest in establishing a stronger sense of campus for students. The Wabash Arts Corridor provides a solid foundation through which the feeling of a Columbia campus could be strengthened.

The project also seems to align well with the Strategic Plan’s goal of community engagement by involving students and alumni with the local community through art. The college’s administration continues to push the Strategic Plan and a new branding initiative, but seems to be ignoring a perfectly good initiative right in front of them.

The murals will generate involvement from students interested in art history, curation, fine art and other aspects of programming and could take students beyond the classroom and into the city, Kelly said in the editorial board meeting. 

Kelly also expressed an interest in involving other students through performances and multimedia projects. 

Prospective students, current students and alumni should be able to look at these murals and proudly say they are a defining part of Columbia. The college’s administration should also take pride in a project that so heavily involves the Columbia community.

The fact that the college faces budget and enrollment challenges does not mean a project that does not deal with those issues directly but has a positive impact on the campus should be given up on or ignored.