Murals add color and energy to public spaces — and they can also be used to creatively solve problems.
At least, that’s the reasoning behind a new partnership between the College of Arts & Sciences’ exercise and sport science department and Arts Everywhere. The two groups collaborated to create a new mural for Carolina’s Fetzer Hall.
After repeatedly noticing that many building visitors were opting to use the elevator, now-alumna Jessica Szymczak ’20 thought that adding art to the space might encourage people to make the more active choice of taking the stairs.
After consulting with Lee Stoner, an assistant professor in exercise and sport science, and Darrell Kidd, the department’s utility and operations supervisor, Szymczak took the idea to the Arts Everywhere team, and a new partnership was born.
“We do our own programming and collaborate with campus partners frequently to come up with new ideas and ways to bring the arts to students at Carolina,” said Kathryn Wagner, associate director of Arts Everywhere. “But there’s something really special about someone coming to you excited with a concept.”
After putting out a call for art and fielding applications in early 2020, Arts Everywhere and the exercise and sport science department chose Livian Kennedy to create the mural.
Kennedy, who graduated from Carolina in December 2019 with degrees in studio art and dramatic art, was involved with the arts community at Carolina throughout her time as a student. An apprenticeship with local Chapel Hill muralist Michael Brown gave her the confidence to submit a design for the mural in Fetzer Hall, which marked her first solo mural creation.
“It was amazing to get the commission and for my first commission to be with Carolina, which I had just graduated from,” Kennedy said. “When you’re in college, they’re really preparing you for the real world, and they’re giving you all the tools and opportunities to succeed outside of the University. This was just another way that Carolina provided me with a rewarding experience, even after I graduated.”
Kennedy worked on the mural throughout last summer, completing it in time for the fall 2020 semester.
In an ode to Fetzer Hall’s ties to the exercise and sport science department, Kennedy’s design features five silhouetted athletes playing various sports, including basketball, swimming and tennis. A blue-green gradient — along with watermarks representing the courts and fields each of the athletes plays on — sets the backdrop of the mural, splashing the entire space with bright and vibrant colors.
One silhouette, positioned on a landing about halfway up the stairwell, features a runner that functions as an extra boost of encouragement. “If you’re going up the staircase, you are right beside her,” Kennedy said. “It’s just this explosive, really energetic, inspiring position that pushes you to keep going.”
Kennedy said the experience allowed her to leave a lasting impact on Carolina.
“I didn’t necessarily get the opportunity to leave something on campus that really felt like I contributed to the environment, but I always wanted to,” Kennedy said. “This seemed like a really nice opportunity to leave a little piece of me with Carolina after I left.”
In addition to drawing more people to use the stairwell, the mural also furthers Arts Everywhere’s mission of making the arts an integral part of the Carolina experience.
The initiative recently organized another mural in partnership with the Undergraduate Business Program at the Kenan-Flagler Business School and is currently accepting community submissions for a virtual mural in honor of the fifth annual Arts Everywhere Day, set for April 9.
“One of the tenants of what we’re trying to accomplish is that every person at Carolina encounters the arts in their time here and that the arts are an essential part of their experience,” Wagner said. “This is just one way that we’re able to broaden that message and use art as a way to share and create dialogue on campus.”