Glass Mural for Kalamazoo Student Center: How do you Express your Identity in a 2 by 2 inch Square?

by Megan Garn

Wednesday, May 9th, from 6 pm to 9 pm in Hicks, Kalamazoo College’s Student Center, the West Michigan Glass Art Center, a non-profit, community and arts and educational organization, came to Kalamazoo College to create a fused glass mural for Hicks. This mural was built in response to the Bridge of Life mural that decorates the dining hall in Hicks. As posted on the Kalamazoo College website by Partners in Art: “The theme for the mural will be for students to create a panel that expresses their part, what they bring, or what they have to offer to the [Kalamazoo] community.” [1] The goal was to capture the diversity of Kalamazoo College and what makes it unique in a glass mural that will hung up in Hicks indefinitely. This event and the mural were sponsored by the Office of Student Involvement and Partners in Art; the mural allows for members of the Kalamazoo College community to show their true voices.

While there were a limited number of spots for the mural activity, no one from the Kalamazoo College community who came to make a 2 by 2 inch panel was turned away. Some students made abstract images with colors, some made tiles that resembled flags from countries they visited or are from, and some made other images that related to where they came from. Seventy ‘K’ students attended the event. While an encouraging environment, the limited number of participants representing the diversity of 1403 students feels troubling. The mural created is supposed to reflect mural making from the 1930’s, when murals were focused on beautifying and boosting public spirit by portraying community values in a community spaces. [2] Yet a question arises: can you show your identity and what you offer to Kalamazoo community within 2 by 2 inch glass tile panel? And if only a small percentage of the Kalamazoo college population participates, how does that show proper representation of Kalamazoo College’s diversity?

Kalamazoo College Students holding up their completed tiles for the Hicks Mural. Photo taken by Amanda Mancini, Kalamazoo Student ’10, taken May 9th at Hicks.

Anyone could participate in this event, and no one was encouraged to participate based on their cultural and or sexual backgrounds. Perhaps too abstract to represent the identity of the Kalamazoo community, it is in the right step towards community-based art that avoids singling out a group in order to show diversity. The activity focused on how individuals want to be represented, without focusing on their heritage or ancestry. While this could be seen as concealing the fact that Kalamazoo College lacks diversity in terms of cultural backgrounds, I believe it is a new way of looking at what makes us unique, rather than focusing on the percentage of minority students.

Notes:

[1] Partners in Art, “WDW: Glass Mural!,” Event Advertisement, 7 May 2012. https://portal.kzoo.edu/Lists/Calendar/DispForm.aspx?ID=2518.

[2] Maureen H. O’Connell, If These Walls Could Talk: Community Muralism and the Beauty of Justice (Saint John’s Abbey: Liturgical Press, 2012), 50.

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