Author: Riley Hooper
“There’s some brass, some wind, some woods, some drummy stuff going on, there’s Beethoven man, conductor man . . . some old school washboard buckety people . . .”
Meilani Bowman-Kamaha’o (senior) looks up at her creation: a seven-foot by 14-foot mural she is painting in the television common room of Newcomb Hall.
The theme of the mural is music – a subject Bowman-Kamaha’o, Hall Coordinator of Newcomb, settled upon with input and collaboration from her residents.
Inspiration came from her own strong musical background (she plays the harp and guitar, sings and her mother is very musically oriented), in addition to the musical talent of many residents of Newcomb. The dorm is home to many skilled musicians who play anything from the guitar and piano to the cello and saxophone, she said.
“Whenever I walk in or out there’s always someone playing the piano in the common room,” Newcomb resident Sant Kumar (sophomore) said. “There’s usually always music going on.”Bowman-Kamaha’o wanted to honor this musical atmosphere in the mural. “I tried to pick instruments that I know people in the hall played,” she said, adding, “I’m sure we don’t have any wash bucket players, but I thought, why not?”
The mural is done with regular house paint – a medium that took some getting used to for Bowman-Kamaha’o, who is used to painting with oils or acrylics. Atop a dark blue, purple and black background are painted figures of musicians, most of whom are not distinguishable or famous, with the exception of a few such as Joan Baez and Ray Charles. They are rendered in light, gestural brushstrokes, giving the mural life and movement.
Bowman-Kamaha’o did not want the mural to have a focal point. Instead, the eye wanders around the figures – randomly placed and varying in scale. In the foreground a woman stands poised at a microphone, while overhead a symphony is mid-way through a classical composition. At the top right, a Kumu, or hula master of sorts, plays an ipu gourd.
For now the musicians are monochromatic in light brown with some yellow and orange mixed in, but when it is finished, they will pop with color. Due to time constraints, the senior geology and American studies double major, HC and co-organizer/cast member of the Occidental Vagina Monologues is taking a break from the painting for a while to focus on her schoolwork and other commitments, but plans to “come back and hit it with a bunch of colors and finish it in March.”
Although she is its principal creator, Bowman-Kamaha’o is self-conscious when people call this her mural.
“It’s not meant to be about me,” she said. “It’s meant to be something that is different in our hall, and that will hopefully inspire others to create things.”
Bowman-Kamaha’o has had ambitions to create a student piece of art on campus for a while. Last school year, as an RA in Chilcott, she had the idea to spray paint a piece of graffiti art on the cinderblock wall outside of the residence hall in collaboration with residents. This didn’t work out for a variety of reasons, she said.
Early last semester, she was determined to create a mural and got to work on a proposal for ResLife and the Campus Beautification Endowment – an ASOC fund allocated to aid the creation of student murals on campus.
The Campus Beautification Endowment fund was created by ASOC in the fall of 2008 by then-ASOC president Patrick McCredie ’09, along with then-sophomore class senator Joellen Anderson (junior) and then-senior class senator Alison Dempsey ’09.
“Occidental is bereft of artistic projects inspired and developed entirely by students,” read the Campus Beautification Endowment Proposal, drafted in the fall of 2008 by McCredie, Anderson and Dempsey.
Noting that while the college is known for its architecture and landscaping, the proposal argues that many walls and spaces on campus, particularly in residence halls, the Marketplace and library, are “devoid of any aesthetics and [are] unattractive to passersby.”
The proposal promotes the creation of murals on campus, much like the one of Martin Luther King in the MLK Lounge of Pauley Hall.
Following the approval of the endowment by the Senate on Nov. 4, 2008, $3,500 of Senate discretionary funds were channeled to the ASOC Campus Beautification Endowment for the purchase of initial art supplies and to thereafter fund the projects of future applicants, who are able to apply for grants of up to $750.
ASOC replenishes the fund each year, regardless of how much is used each academic year, ASOC Finance Chair and Sophomore Senator Aliza Goldsmith (sophomore) said.
To apply, a student must fill out an application detailing plans for the project, including its location, size, a budget of expenses and a timeline. The application also asks students to submit a detailed colored sketch, explain their art background and to offer a compelling description of how their project will benefit and beautify the campus.
The application, which is available on the ASOC Web site, is demanding, yet realistic, Bowman-Kamaha’o said.
For funding, applications must be voted on and approved by the ASOC Senate.
The Senate read Bowman-Kamaha’o’s application when it was submitted, yet was not meeting at the time and has not met since, so the senators have not officially approved funding for her mural, Goldsmith said. However, Goldsmith is under the impression that Senate will fund the project retroactively.
Goldsmith said they will most likely approve the funding “because that’s what the money is there for, to promote students to beautify campus spaces – in this case the otherwise boring Newcomb TV room.”
The projects must also be cleared by Facilities and the group or organization representing the building selected for artistic enhancement – in this case, ResLife.
“We approved the mural because it was creative, pleasing to the eye, and we wanted to liven up the living spaces in the residence halls,” Assistant Dean for Residence Life and Housing Services Tim Chang said.
Newcomb residents seem to be pleased with the mural. James Kornfield (sophomore) appreciates that Bowman-Kamaha’o took her own initiative and time to spruce up the “bland” Newcomb TV room, he said.
“It’s cool that it’s in a dorm that I live in, so I got a chance to see it get made,” Kumar said. “I know about its history, and I feel a part of that history.”
Bowman-Kamaha’o’s mural is the second to be proposed and approved. Last April the Senate approved an application from several residents of Pauley Hall to paint a mural on the second floor of their residence. The mural depicts a peace symbol, with two arms grasping it. Above, “Pauley” is written in large red letters, and below are the words “Harmony, Love, Strength.”
Goldsmith suspects that the number of students taking advantage of the fund and submitting applications is low because either they don’t know about the endowment or they think it is more difficult than it really is to receive funding.
“This money is already allocated and super easy to get,” she said.
Bowman-Kamaha’o, Goldsmith and the Senate and Chang, along with ResLife, are all dedicated to bringing more student murals to Oxy’s campus.
Chang spoke of the benefits – for both the campus grounds and the students – that come with the creation of a student mural. “The planning, the proposing, the executing of the mural is also worthwhile as it provokes thought and encourages independence,” he said. “Being in college is about learning all that you can-learning in every environment and from every opportunity. Allowing students to put up murals does all this, but it is also fun.”
Bowman-Kamaha’o hopes to develop another mural project this semester, painting the stairwells in Newcomb – this time involving the entire residence hall.
Newcomb resident Rob Deans (sophomore) seemed excited at the possibility of such a project.
“That would be great,” Deans said. “She could just hand us paint brushes and paint and let us go for the
Bowman-Kamaha’o said she would like to see other art forms, besides murals, displayed around campus as well. One idea is to have an ongoing student sculpture display on campus that rotates new installations on a regular basis. Bowman-Kamaha’o has been in talks with sculpture Professor Mary Beth Heffernan about establishing such a program.
“When you visit Oxy, the grounds are beautiful, but it’s not clear that students are involved in that,” Bowman-Kamaha’o said. “I think it’s silly that students think that they don’t have impact on that, when they can.”
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