Big Walls 2016

Published on May 10, 2016
Buenos Aires based artist Marina Zumi works on her mural at 910 S Michigan Ave. Buenos Aires based artist Marina Zumi works on her mural at 910 S Michigan Ave.

By Jaclyn Jermyn (‘16)

The Wabash Arts Corridor is about to get a lot more colorful with the help of the first annual Big Walls Festival—a two-week long mural and art celebration that leads up to Manifest.

Mark Kelly, the vice president of student success, came up with the idea for the Wabash Arts Corridor 15 years ago after sensing that there was no visual cohesion that defined the Columbia campus.

“It’s a funny street—it’s like a really wide alley and there was no buzz but I saw it as a blank canvas,” says Kelly. Since then, the district has become a living urban canvas with all forms of art, from public murals to performing arts and everything in between.

Collin van der Sluijs works on his mural at 1006 S. Michigan

Around four months ago, Kelly realized that there happened to be multiple mural projects that were set to be painted and unveiled in the spring. Kelly created the Big Walls Festival with this in mind. The team behind the project raised over $100,000 and enlisted a mix of local, national, and international artists to create 18 new murals. This includes work by three Columbia College alumni: Justus Roe (’08), Don’t Fret, and Ruben Aguirre (’02).

Neysa Page-Lieberman, director and curator of the department of exhibitions, performance, and student spaces, hopes that these murals will help to build the support and awareness for other artistic endeavours happening in the area.

“[Big Walls] will overlap student accomplishments with the professional art world,” says Page-Lieberman.

The festival will include the unveiling of five new banners to be hung above the Averill and Bernard Leviton A+D Gallery, designed by photography major Charles Loggins (‘17), and a mural by design major, Andrea Dunn (‘16), the winners of a student contest. A mural by design major JJ McLuckie (‘17) will replace Dunn’s mural in the fall.

Big Walls Chicago 2016

“Students don’t just go to class and get a grade—it’s a pathway for work that lives beyond the classroom,” says Kelly.

Beyond the new murals, there will also be animated projections on several South Loop buildings, new sculptures being added to planters in collaboration with the Harold Washington Library, a yarn-bombing campaign, and fashion design students “dressing” fences.

“Thirty years ago, [there were] no student spaces, no student galleries—just classrooms—[and] no sense of community or emphasis on body of work,” says Kelly. Big Walls aims to bring the local artistic community together to celebrate in a similar way that the Wabash Arts Crawl does every fall.

Social media coverage has brought additional attention to the festival. So much so that Kelly is confident that they will be able to raise the additional funds needed to keep the festival going in years to come. There have already been offers from other mural artists looking to get involved.

“Before, we had to explain to people who we were,” says Kelly. “Now, we’re on the map. Big time.”