In an attempt to add color, representation and life to the physical space of The Taylor Center for Equity and Inclusion, Director Dr. María Pabón commissioned seven student artists to create a mural to make the Taylor Center a more inclusive and representative space for students.
“Physical spaces have always been a critical part of how we relate and interact with the world around us,” Pabón said. “We can see inequities in how spaces are created. We need spaces that are ours. We need spaces that can transcend leaders and names.”
The seven students worked together to design a mural to accurately represent the goals, community and purpose of the Taylor Center. Located in the center of the space, the mural will be a focal point of the Center. Tasked with representing the past, present and future of the Taylor Center, the group decided to create something that other students and community members could add to. Inspired by the late Aretha Franklin’s cover art and determined to stay away from the stereotypical depictions of people of color, the group decided on the Greek symbol for strength for the focal point of the mural.
Project leader Tamira Fuentes ’19 spoke of the importance of moving away from these repetitive symbols and why they chose the Greek symbol.
“Physical spaces have always been a crucial part of how we relate and interact with the world around us.” – María Pabón
“We decided to approach that in a way that did not stereotypically identify marginalized communities,” Fuentes said. “We wanted to move away from that, and we wanted to instead show the strength and resilience of these communities.”
The organic and ambiguous elements of the symbol was intentional as the group members sought to include as many communities as possible and to represent diversity without limitations. The symbol of
strength is painted with blackchalk paint that students and community members will be able to add to, allowing students to tell their own stories on the mural. Because future students can add their own pieces of art, it becomes an ever-changing mural that better reflects the community, artist Kylee Mercedes Novak ’20 said.
Throughout the creative process it was clear that the mural was supposed to include the past, present and future. Looking back on the past became vital as the students decided on their design. The inclusion of the symbol with its mosaic components reflects the history of the community at St. Olaf while looking forward.
“We want to move forward, we want to change what happened, we want the College to know that we are powerful people, that we are here and we aren’t going to be silent,” artist DeAnia Brown ’21 said.
Looking forward, artist Bridget Asamoah-Baffour ’21 hopes that the mural will make the Taylor Center more accessible and welcoming for other students as they are encouraged to take part in it and be apart of the community.
As the student artists and directory of the Taylor Center collaborate together on how to best represent the space, they also reflect on what the mural means to them.
“I want this mural to be the first of many opportunities where our students reclaim spaces, and hopefully we can do this beyond the walls of the lounge,” Pabón said. “My hopes are that we can create as many spaces on campus as possible where ALL students feel that they can be their authentic self.”