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AN INDEPENDENT STUDENT NEWSPAPER SERVING THE GW COMMUNITY SINCE 1904

The GW Hatchet

Serving the GW Community since 1904

The GW Hatchet

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Crime log: Subject barred after shoplifting at bookstore
By Max Porter, Contributing News Editor • February 26, 2024

Students to paint D.C.-themed mural in University Student Center this spring

Freshman+Holland+Ley%2C+the+event+coordinator+for+Art+n+Soul%2C+said+he+is+excited+to+see+a+%E2%80%9Cstudent+touch%E2%80%9D+added+to+the+white+walls+of+the+student+center.
Courtesy of Melanie Rocha
Freshman Holland Ley, the event coordinator for Art n Soul, said he is excited to see a “student touch” added to the white walls of the student center.

Sophomore Melanie Rocha wants to splash culture, color and history onto the barren walls of the University Student Center.

The Office of Student Life commissioned Rocha, the president and founder of the student organization Art n Soul, to paint a 52-foot mural on the wall outside of the student center’s fourth-floor elevators after upgrading the building’s interior with fresh paint, light fixtures and flooring during the summer. Rocha said the mural, which Art n Soul aims to complete by April, comes after multiple emails that officials sent students last year asking about their interest in the mural project.

“In terms of that space, I’m hoping that it excites people to want to be part of orgs and be part of our club and study there and just enjoy their space and feel like home,” Rocha said.

Rocha, a political communications major and fine arts minor, said she will send officials the initial mural outline Monday – including a Metro railcar and a cherry blossom tree as the centerpiece, with books hanging off the branches to symbolize “education and growth.” Rocha said she met with Miles Feacher, a program associate for student involvement who will oversee the overall painting process, to finalize the design last week.

Rocha said she hopes the colorful, student-led mural in the common space on the floor, which houses student organizations like the Student Association and GW Program Board as well as Org Help, will raise students’ enthusiasm about joining student organizations. She said she hopes the mural brings a wave of new public art to campus that will brighten student spaces.

“I think that being in a sterile environment is not great for your mental health,” Rocha said. “And so having something pretty to look at while you’re studying or while you’re doing whatever, it inspires you.”

Rocha said Art n Soul is an outlet for students who don’t major in the arts to express their creativity through art projects, and the USC mural is the focal point of the student organization’s launch this year. She said that during an Art n Soul general body meeting last month, about 50 people expressed interest in assisting with different pieces of the mural, like sketching, tracing and painting the design.

Rocha said Art n Soul’s five executive board members will oversee the mural’s execution by dividing participating students into small groups to paint their own respective portions of the wall.

Rocha said the e-board is recruiting more students to paint the mural with sign-ups offered to nonmembers via posters with QR codes in the student center’s elevators. She said interested students can also sign up for email updates about painting days on Engage.

“I love painting and being able to share that creativity and experience with everybody is really exciting for me,” Rocha said.

Brian Joyce, the assistant dean of student life, said officials are working to engage student organizations in the student center’s ongoing “activation” post-renovations, including the grand opening of the department’s Involvement and Leadership Office, free meals to students on Reading Day before finals and the debut of a new commuter student lounge this spring.

He said officials asked student leaders to submit mural design suggestions that highlight GW’s values like inclusivity and collaboration in an August interest survey about the mural’s development.

Joyce said the mural will be unveiled to the public April 13, around the same time cherry trees around the Tidal Basin begin to blossom. He said the mural’s premiere will come as part of the University’s “Buff and Pink Week” festival series, which will celebrate the District’s flourishing cherry blossom season.

“Art has the ability to beautify and highlight the vibrant student organization ecosystem,” Joyce said in an email.

Freshman Holland Ley, the event coordinator for Art n Soul, said he joined the student organization upon hearing about it at the Fall Org Fair because of his passion for art. He said he is excited to see a “student touch” added to the white walls of the student center.

“It helps to make students know that this floor is like a safe space for them,” Ley said. “That doesn’t matter what interest they have or if they like art or if they like sports, they feel identified.”

Ley said the mural represents a shift to more student engagement in the University’s physical appearance. He said students can better engage with the rest of the student body through artwork like the mural because student feedback plays a direct role in its display.

“It’s not the school by itself,” Ley said. “It’s more of the school and the students working together.”

Karly Martinez, the finance director of Art n Soul, said the student center’s walls are “institutionalized” and “depressing” due to their blank appearance that fails to foster a feeling of community on campus every time she exits the elevators.

She said she hopes the student center’s mural will promote similar artistic projects in other buildings like Gelman Library, the exterior of which she said looks “blunt.”

“I think that adding our own stamp, and it’s not just like Art n Soul,” Martinez said. “We’re kind of adding stuff from all different orgs and the whole student body. I think it’s going to foster more of a creative feeling on the floor.”

Zoe Swiss, the vice president of Art n Soul and a senior studying political communications, said the preparation for the mural has been a “learning curve” for members, most of whom have never planned a mural before. She said the student organization’s leaders are limiting the number of students who can work at once to mitigate the chaos of too many “chefs in the kitchen.”

“I think we are doing pretty well for ourselves and leaning on one another to figure things out,” Swiss said. “So there’s a lot to do, but I think it’s going to end up really great.”

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