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Environmental organizations at BU band together to paint community mural

USO and TUGI mural
Students from Boston University’s Environmental Student Organization and Boston’s chapter of The Urban Garden Initiative paint a community mural April 30. The collaboration was a two and a half-year process and now covers the Kenmore Classroom Building in Kenmore Square. SAM BETSKO/DFP STAFF

More color and art has been added to Boston University’s campus this weekend as green, blue, orange and yellow swirls of paint complete a mural that covers the wall of the Kenmore Classroom Building in Kenmore Square.

BU’s Environmental Student Organization and Boston’s chapter of The Urban Garden Initiative banded together Saturday, April 30 to paint a wall of 565 Commonwealth Avenue. The mural collaboration has been in the works for two and half years.

Halle Cooper, a senior in the College of Arts and Sciences and the chapter director of TUGI, came up with the idea to do the mural and the original design.

“Something that I’m really interested in as just an artistic concept is those universal patterns that show up in different ecosystems or different environments, like fractals, or swirls, how they’re in all different mediums, and it’s cool,” Cooper said. “So that was my original feeling behind it.”

The original idea transformed throughout the process of planning the mural, she said. The first design was “one person and this whole part that’s a gradient was all black” to represent the destruction of the environment.

“It was showing how humans kind of destroy the beauty,” Cooper said.

However, it wasn’t the message the organizations wanted to portray with the mural because there are people and cultures interacting “sustainability” with the environment.

“Instead of perpetuating that negative narrative, we wanted to celebrate the positive interconnectedness and beauty between humans in nature,” Cooper said. “That’s how we got interested in this idea of Indigenous values regarding environmentalism because it’s really tied to those concepts.”

The final design encapsulates swirls of color, silhouettes of faces, mountains and flowers.

The proposal process for the community mural painting was “extensive,” Keeley Bombard, a senior in CAS and president of ESO, said.

After getting it approved and the design finalized, they were able to work with professional muralist Erin Genia, an Indigenous artist that specializes in uplifting Indigenous art. Her installation “Caution: Cultural Emergency” was in front of the George Sherman Union last semester, and she is currently an artist-in-residence with the City of Boston.

To emphasize the community effort, Bombard and Cooper decided to make time slots for people to sign up and come paint a small section. They used a grid pattern to section off each cell, about 15 by 15 inches.

Reginae Echols, a freshman in CAS, was at the Kenmore Classroom Building Saturday contributing to the mural.

“I like doing community activities, and it has art so I figured it would be a good thing to destress,” Echols said.

Liliane Duséwoir, senior lecturer in CAS and faculty in residence of Upper Bay State Road, organized a group of her residents together to paint after hearing about the mural from Cooper.

“BU needs so many more murals, such an opportunity to have representation of more faces, more bodies, a way to connect with the residents of campus, a way to speak to us, a way to engage us,” Duséwoir said. “I’m so grateful and thankful for [Cooper] and giving her art and let us all participate and get us to get to know each other.”

Caroline Perna, a freshman in Sargent College of Health and Rehabilitation Sciences, came to contribute to the mural in support of Cooper.

“I think art is a really great way to communicate to people,” she said. “It’s going to be really attention grabbing when people walk in the street.”

The mural will be staying up for at least three years based on the contract ESO and TUGI signed with BU, Cooper said.

“I’m so excited for the community painting because I think that makes it even more special that it’s an even more direct message that art can be this communication tool and this universal way to interact,” Cooper said.

Annabel Hughes, a senior in CAS and member of TUGI, said she noticed how there were a lot of freshman painting on Saturday.

“I hope that it’s super cool to walk by something that you made, especially for the next three years, so hopefully people feel some pride in that,” Hughes said.

Bombard wants people to “see an opportunity to learn something,” when passing by the mural. Below the mural will be a scannable QR code that links to information about Indigenous environmentalism and organizations in Boston who work alongside Indigenous groups.

“My hope is that when people walk by, they see this mural and they appreciate the way that it brightens up our campus,” Bombard said. “Public art does something really special where it just makes the community feel so much more vibrant.”

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