Dupre gets a controversial coat of paint

Paintings%2C+poems+and+collages+appeared+in+the+west+Dupre+stairwell+on+Monday%2C+Jan.+25.+The+mural%2C+which+was+appluaded+by+some+and+criticized+by+others+on+Facebook%2C+was+the+focus+of+several+emails+from+Residential+Life+and+a+student-led+petition.+Photo+by+Maya+Rait.

Paintings, poems and collages appeared in the west Dupre stairwell on Monday, Jan. 25. The mural, which was appluaded by some and criticized by others on Facebook, was the focus of several emails from Residential Life and a student-led petition. Photo by Maya Rait.

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Paintings, poems and collages appeared in the west Dupre stairwell on Monday, Jan. 25. The mural, which was appluaded by some and criticized by others on Facebook, was the focus of several emails from Residential Life and a student-led petition. Photo by Maya Rait.
Paintings, poems and collages appeared in the west Dupre stairwell on Monday, Jan. 25. The mural, which was appluaded by some and criticized by others on Facebook, was the focus of several emails from Residential Life and a student-led petition. Photo by Maya Rait.

Last week, as early as Monday, Jan. 25 after 10 p.m. and as late as the following Tuesday around 7 p.m., colorful painted and glued mural-style artwork appeared in Dupre Hall’s west stairwell. The artwork, which has yet to be removed and whose creators are unknown as of this article’s publication, has caused discussion across campus, some of it heated, surrounding college policy and student desire for art-making spaces on campus. As of print time, no students have come forward to claim the artwork in the stairwell as their own.

Resident Assistants (RAs) discovered the art on the stairwell walls, extending from the fifth floor down to the basement, while on call the Tuesday, Jan. 26. An email was sent to Dupre residents on Thursday, Jan. 28, by Residence Hall Director Marian Aden, reminding students that the artwork violates residential life policy, and requesting that those with information about it notify an RA.

Discussion ensued in the “Macalester Class of 2019” page on Facebook the following day, starting with the posting of a link by Ellen Janda ’19 to a Change.org petition titled “Preserve the Art in the Dupre Secret Stair!” addressed to President Rosenberg and Dean of Students Jim Hoppe. The petition is authored by a “Robert Macalester Kennedy,” but the real author’s name is unknown.

“The stairwell was a drafty, forgotten place before students began to hang collages and poems there. It has since turned into this huge, colorful creation,” Janda said in an email. “ Good or bad, it seemed the stairwell was worth more than a quick white-wash from campus facilities.”

“We, the residents of Dupre Hall and other members of the Macalester Community, petition the College to preserve the art within the Dupre West Stairwell,” the petition begins. “We believe it fits with Macalester College’s spirit of creative expression.”

The author, or authors, go on to state their belief “that the Macalester Community can enjoy the freedom to create art without it descending to a destructive, profane or otherwise inappropriate display.” The petition does not appear to address Residential Life’s concern of property damage.

In the comments sections of two different posts about the artwork in the Class of 2019 group, students debated whether or not it should have been put up in the first place. Proponents of the work called for students’ intellectual and creative freedom on a campus they pay to attend; opponents pointed out the inevitable consequence of disregarding college policies about property damage and graffiti.

According to section 5.13 of the Student Handbook, which is listed under Campus Policies and Protocols, Macalester “does have a policy of removing graffiti from all buildings and other facilities.”Under section 4.3, a violation subject to disciplinary action is “intentionally or recklessly destroying, misusing, damaging or stealing personal or College property.”

A follow-up email, signed by Assistant Director of Residential Life Amanda-Rae Barboza, was sent to Dupre residents on Sunday, Jan. 31, expressing residential life’s understanding of student feeling about the artwork.

“Although still a form of property damage, we recognize much of the intent of these paintings/glued murals was to make Dupre more colorful and provide a feeling of home, hope and creativity in design,” Barboza wrote. “We sincerely doubt those who chose to put up the work meant harm, but unfortunately they were not aware of the impact their actions would have.”

Barboza also pointed out in an interview on Monday that the situation is relevant to Macalester’s ongoing strategic space plan, and stated that Residential Life, Student Affairs and Facilities Services are all invested in collaborating with the campus community.

“Our goal is to provide an equitable process for multiple and intersecting voices to be heard/represented as well as provide support for necessary durable materials and design,” she wrote.

In a later interview, Barboza stated that one of the reasons why artwork on campus must be approved is that potentially damage-causing materials, such as certain types of paint that could affect a wall or other surface, must be eliminated from the process.

However, to some students, these policies and others may not provide an explicit reason why the artwork should be removed. In an editorial in The Mac Weekly titled “Visibility, boundaries and art,” published last September, Svitlana Iukhymovych ’16 expressed skepticism about the College’s response to students’ public artwork.

“Thus far, permissions to complete public art have been arbitrary and subject to situational change. The absence of clear rules allows for censoring, and monitoring, of public spaces,” Iukhymovych wrote, after describing an incident in which public art made by a student was first permitted, then taken down by Facilities. “So I can’t help but wonder how long it takes till the next public theater, poetry, sculpture or other artwork on campus is taken down shortly after its emergence. Vague safety rules for the artistic use of public spaces, as well as the politics of space and its ownership, leave artists frustrated, obliged to tear apart their work, ‘or else.’”

Also this past fall, in November, students responded to the whitewashing of the Grate—the space located outside the door to the Mac Bike workshop, on the west side of Doty Hall—with an event, “Plant the Seeds: Reclaim the Grate,” in which students redesigned the space, performed poetry, music, dance and storytelling, and ended the night with a dance party. The whitewashing was an outside job with unidentified perpetrators, and Facilities endorsed the reclaiming, though only after the Spark met with administrators in Student Life.

Ultimately, Residential Life remains firm in its stance with regards to policy but is open to making changes in students’ living spaces.

“We want to be involved in [what Dupre] looks like, how it makes us feel,” Aden said on Monday. “But definitely, I think it’s important to stress just the avenue that it went about is not an avenue that is encouraged, and that is not an avenue that was the right way in that moment to go about this. And so I think that’s very important just to make crystal-clear: that that was not the correct avenue. But now, hindsight is of course 20/20 … we understand the reasoning that was behind the artwork being put up.”

“It seems like it’s causing conversation even among students . . . in Café Mac, or on Facebook or other places where people are questioning, ‘What would have been the best method?’” Barboza said. “Consider both that there was a policy violation, and that students want a space that feels like home. So I think those are things you have to balance. Rarely is it [a] yes-or-no type of [thing].”