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Two new murals to join existing public art around Grinnell

The two proposed new murals will join murals like “Eclipse,” the first mural to be painted in Grinnell, created in 2000 by Dave Loewenstein. Photo by Shabana Gupta.

While fans of public art at Grinnell College can look to the quotes and drawings that decorate bathrooms in Burling Library and Bob’s Underground, two student groups on campus are bringing more formalized mural projects to the walls of the College and other schools in Grinnell. Over the course of the spring 2019 semester, the Student Alumni Council (SAC) and service-based group Connecting Grinnellians have worked to implement public art projects that celebrate the Grinnell community.

SAC members first conceptualized their mural project at a meeting earlier this semester as a possible addition to “I Heart GC” week, a yearly event which the group hosts to deepen student and alumni connection with the College, as well as raise funds. However, the members learned that the only way to get a mural approved on campus is through an SGA student initiative, which requires student body approval to pass.

SAC members intend the mural, which will be three by nine feet and located in an East Campus dorm basement, to feature a variety of designs done by student groups that will celebrate the diversity of communities present at the College. Student groups interested in painting a square in the mural should submit their designs to

Emily Zaffiro ‘19, one of the co-presidents of SAC, encouraged student groups to participate in public art on campus.

“It’s a really great way to show your mark on Grinnell. There’s not that many opportunities, especially with Bob’s being closed, to actually make a mark on Grinnell,” said Zaffiro. “This is a permanent way, … and also a great way to show that you really care about the school and you’re proud of the student groups that you’re a part of.”

The mission of Connecting Grinnellians is to increase the support for community service opportunities for Grinnell College students. Last semester, the organization set up Invisible Closets in Grinnell schools, stocked with donations of food, clothing and hygiene products available to students who need them. This semester, the group is in the midst of planning the installation of multiple murals for the Grinnell-Newburg middle school and Davis Elementary school buildings.

Grinnell-Newburg school nurse Lisa Leris contacted Connecting Grinnellians about several walls needing painting at the school. The organization, along with several unaffiliated student-artist volunteers, will create seven murals between the two schools, using the designs of Grinnell-Newburg superintendent Janet Stutz, while also incorporating their own ideas into the project.

Connecting Grinnellians’ program representative, Carlos Piedrasanta Jr. ‘20, said that funding for the project will likely come from a variety of sources like SGA, local business donations and a potential grant. He also emphasized how the project will connect Grinnell College to the other schools in the community.

“I think the murals will be a physical representation of a reunification or beginning of a new friendship between Grinnell College and the school system. … I’m huge on providing service and using the resources we have to support anybody in any way and I think the murals intersect with our goals because we’ll be able to use student interest and money to … make the school a little more appealing for students, as well as families,” Piedrasanta said.

These proposed murals are just the latest additions to an impressive array of public art accessible to all members of the Grinnell community. In 2010, Grinnell College’s Student Organization of Latinxs (SOL) worked with children in the community to paint art on the west side of the Midwest Counseling building to celebrate diversity and learning. The mural primarily features a tree sprouting from a book, surrounded by other symbols and the handprints of those who painted it.

Several other murals are accessible throughout downtown Grinnell. On the backside of Village Decorating Studio is “Teeth-rex,’ a mural by local artist Ryan McGuire featuring a giant green dinosaur brushing its teeth at a sink. Painted just a block over, on the side of Grinnell Railway Express, is “Eclipse,” Grinnell’s very first mural. The piece was painted in 2000 by muralist Dave Loewenstein. Other murals are located inside of McNally’s and on the side of the University of Iowa Dialysis Unit.

As for the latest additions to Grinnell’s mural scene, SAC and Connecting Grinnellians’ projects should be completed before the end of the academic year, continuing the legacy of public art in Grinnell.

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