Pitzer Community Reacts to Removal of Mead Hall Murals

Picture by Anne Marie Gerlach ’23, used with permission.

On February 11th, 2021, the Office of Student Affairs sent out an email informing the Pitzer community of renovations made to Mead Hall. While the residence hall benefitted from some much needed renovations, such as upgraded air conditioning and heater units as well as repainted faucets and sinks in the suite restrooms, it lost some of its murals in the process. Murals that were not approved by the Campus Aesthetics Community, as well as the Free Wall on the north side of Mead, were painted over.

“Five years after installation of approved artwork, typically in the Fall semester, a review of the condition and continued relevance of the artwork will take place which may result in the removal of the artwork,” states the Pitzer College website.

If the artwork is not considered graffiti or unapproved and is in need of maintenance, The Campus Aesthetics Committee contacts the artist to see if they would like to participate in upkeep of their art, as stated in the review process.

In a student-talk sent out by Ethan Vitaz PZ ‘21 on February 12th, students questioned whether the broader community had been afforded adequate input in the decision to remove the murals. 

“Some of these murals must have gone up before an approval process was required. Regardless it is completely unacceptable that the school would do something like this when students are not on campus because the Pitzer students I know would never let this happen,” said Vitaz. 

The beginning of the five year review process was announced on March 3rd 2020, according to an email from CAC Chair Melissa Burrows.

“The Campus Aesthetics Committee is charged with overseeing the implementation of the Outdoor Art Policy as it is written in the Student Handbook. To that end, we are reaching out to the community to seek feedback on a selection of paintings, murals, sculptures, or installations which the Campus Aesthetics Committee has identified as needing to be removed or restored,” said Burrows in an email to the Pitzer community.

Anne-Marie Gerlach PZ ‘23, one of the four students on the committee, explained that during the review they consider factors such as faded paint and the overall presentation of Mead. Following these conversations, the committee reaches out to the artists of the murals. 

“One of the [removed] murals was the big yellow square, which was super faded.” Gerlach said. “We reached out to the [artist] but he was out of the country and thus unable to restore it.”

According to Gerlach, after informing the community of the murals that were under review, she received inquiries from students who would have been willing to restore their favorite murals themselves.

“If somebody wanted to paint the Big Yellow Square, for example, they could totally do that…they would just have to fill out the application as if it were to be a new mural,” said Gerlach.

The Yellow Square was one of 5 murals that were reviewed for removal. According to Burrows’ email, others included Dragons Over Waves (Mead Hall Facing Holden Garden, Near Campus), What Drives You (Mead W Tower South, Facing 3rd Floor Walkway), Anne Frank Quote (Mead Z Tower South, Facing 2nd Floor Walkway), and Pixelated Figure (Mead Y Tower East, Facing Service Road, 2nd Floor Balcony).

To some students, the removal of these murals represented not only the loss of a piece of art, but the erasure of memories made on campus.

“Seeing those murals as visual cues can trigger episodic memories in the future when alumni come back to visit their alma mater… For current and previous students, the murals represent memories and values they wanted to express (and a lot more). For incoming students, they are missing a lot of history,” said Colleen Woo PZ ‘21. 

In the post-removal student-talk thread, Malcolm McCann PZ ‘22 expressed his concerns about the review process.

“Their bylaws say students have to be there to approve the addition or removal of artworks. Bylaws also say that artwork voted to be removed will be removed the following summer after the vote unless there are urgent circumstances,” he said. “Maybe we could collectively contact the CAC to learn more about their decision and propose changes to their bylaws.”

According to Gerlach, the Campus Aesthetics Committee plans to open up the process to the SVC (Student Voice Committee).

 “This semester, [the committee plans to change the laws] so that we would work together with the Student Voice Committee, the virtual version of the Residence Hall Council in accordance with Reslife, to decide what needs to be removed.”

Dani Miller ‘23 is from Bethesda, Maryland. She enjoys podcasts, A24 Films, BROCKHAMPTON, and sharing her opinions with anyone who will hear them.

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