AAHD Class Creates Mural for Downtown East Lansing

Brightly painted mural with imagery depicting people, a city, nature.

Department of Art, Art History, and Design class project is now on permanent display in downtown East Lansing.

The Public Art: Understanding and Practice class, taught by Ben Duke, Associate Professor of Studio Art in the Department of Art, Art History, and Design, created an 8.6 x 15 mural over the summer as part of the city of East Lansing’s beautification project.

The eight students in the class did all the work, from conceptualizing the theme, researching image sources, developing and presenting a professional public art proposal, to realizing their vision by painting the mural.

“It was an honor to witness the eight artists who took on the challenge of this project developing a sense of camaraderie and community throughout the creative process,” Duke said. “They truly worked together as a team to make a mural celebrating East Lansing. I think their hard work exemplifies the best of what community building can be and I look forward to seeing them develop their art.”

Man with headphones, a hat, and glasses painting a brightly colored mural.
Students work on the mural as part of the Public Art: Understanding and Practice class.

The student artists who worked on the mural include Salvador Carrillo, Studio Art junior; Summer Rain Dawdy-Allen, Studio Art senior; Cami Ernst, Apparel and Textile Design sophomore; Leila Michelle Malekadeli, Studio Art senior; Ciera Marie Joy Mckay, Studio Art senior; Peter James Shutt, Studio Art junior; Richard Aaron Tanner, Studio Art junior; and Alyssa Mary Thornton, Studio Art senior.

“Within our regular art classes how we work and create is very individual, so I was interested to see how a group of very individual artists would come together to make a collective piece,” Thornton said. “I wanted to see how a group as passionate as this could come together to create the mural.”

Tribute to City’s Inclusionary History

Located in the Grove Street Alley, the student-created public art mural, entitled “A Colorful Melange: We All Belong Here,” consists of vibrant colors, bold lines, transitional patterns, and complex figures with a focus on socioeconomic, ethnic, age, and gender diversity, as a tribute to East Lansing’s strong history of inclusionary policies and the city’s continual growth toward acceptance and tolerance.

“Being able to immerse myself in the design of this mural that expresses the ideals and views of the community is meaningful,” Tanner said, “and having it on display for everyone in East Lansing to see is incredible.”

Two female students standing and painting a brightly colored mural while a man with a hat and headphones sits and paints beside them.
The mural serves as a tribute to East Lansing’s strong history of inclusionary policies and the city’s continual growth toward acceptance and tolerance.

The mural was supported by the East Lansing Downtown Development Authority (DDA) as a continuation of the 2016 East Lansing Artist Alleys placemaking project. As part of that project, “The Spirit of East Lansing: Sounds from the Streets” public art mural by local artist Julian Van Dyke was installed in the Grove Street Alley last year. The new student-created mural has been installed next to Van Dyke’s mural, creating an artful passageway for pedestrians traveling between the Grove Street Garage and Ann Street Plaza.

“This student-created mural is a great addition to our growing public art offerings in downtown East Lansing,” said DDA Chair Peter Dewan. “This project was unique in that it drew on the talent of up-and-coming MSU student artists and helped to further connect them to the community. I know I speak on behalf of the entire DDA when I say it was an honor to support them in their creative endeavors.”

Finding Inspiration from Study Away

Prior to creating the mural, the class traveled to New York City, Grand Rapids, and Detroit to view significant pieces of public art on a week-long study away program created specifically for the course. The experience provided students with an opportunity to engage with public works of art in a range of venues, and then put their newly acquired knowledge and understanding into creative practice.

Filled with inspiration from their public art encounters, they drew on sketches and experiences from their study away to collaboratively create a mural that incorporates the ideas and styles of all the students in the class.

A hand with a black wristwatch painting a face onto a mural.
The Public Art: Understanding and Practice class traveled to New York City, Grand Rapids, and Detroit to view public art and to find inspiration for their East Lansing mural.

In conceptualizing the images for the mural, the students decided that their shared creative goal was “to bring together many themes that we have all felt in our time here; themes that will still run deep through the city long after our time is done.”

“The class was so rewarding. It was probably one of the best classes I’ve taken,” said Peter Shutt, a junior Studio Art major. “I really wanted to work on growing and building my art, and this class allowed me to do that. I learned so much by experiencing so much.”

This is the first time the Public Art: Understanding and Practice class has been offered. It was conceived by Duke and Sandra Logan, Director of the Citizen Scholars (CS) program.

“Ben came to me with this wonderful experiential learning opportunity, and I immediately recognized that it would make a great ‘CS Option’ course,” Logan said.

CS Option courses meet Citizen Scholar objectives, but are taught as part of the normal departmental curriculum.

Six people standing in front of a brightly painted mural.
“A Colorful Melange: We All Belong Here” mural can be found in the Grove Street Alley in downtown East Lansing.

“I encouraged Ben to add a ‘study away’ component to the course, and we worked with Bethany Judge and the Undergraduate Affairs team to put the pieces together,” Logan said. “We funded one Citizen Scholar student, Cami Ernst, to participate in the Study Away NYC portion of the course, and we supported experiential learning elements such as trips to Grand Rapids and Detroit to view additional examples of public art. This was an ideal collaboration between a departmental course and the Citizen Scholar’s program, and we will continue to cultivate experiential opportunities of this sort.”

Dedication Ceremony

The public is invited to a dedication ceremony for the mural on Friday, Nov. 3, at 3:30 p.m. in the Grove Street Alley, located between the Grove Street Garage, 330 Grove Street, and Ann Street Plaza (corner of Albert and M.A.C. avenues) in downtown East Lansing. with East Lansing Mayor Mark Meadows and members of the city’s Public Art Committee attending.