Baca mural could adorn Berry Library

by Lance Kramer | 11/26/02 6:00am

Fall-term Montgomery Fellow Judy Baca may return to Dartmouth as early as next spring to begin work on a mural in the new Berry Library that would incorporate input from students and faculty.

According to College Librarian Richard Lucier, no formal agreements or proposals have been formed, but initial discussions of the project started after faculty expressed an interest. Baca acknowledged that several people on campus, including President James Wright and Lucier, expressed enthusiasm for the project.

"This is definitely very feasible," Baca said. "I'm waiting for communication from Dartmouth now. People have expressed a genuine interest -- it's just a question of whether they can pull the resources together to do it."

Baca said that she would use mural techniques combining painted and computer-generated images. She tested the techniques in several of her recent projects, including a mural at Denver International Airport.

"We've looked at spaces and there has definitely been interest expressed," Montgomery Endowment Director Barbara Gerstner said. "Some faculty members thought, 'Wouldn't it be wonderful for her to come do a mural somewhere.' We are talking about it with her and have asked her to submit a budget proposal."

Gerstner added that locating appropriate funding for the project may be a concern for the school.

"The mural could become a reality if we can find funds and if a proposal is accepted," Gerstner said. "I don't know what the magnitude of the cost would be. But once we see what the design is and where the mural might be painted, we could begin to get some donors."

Baca noted that the mural's cost would vary depending on Dartmouth's approach to the project. "Ideally, I would come in residence for three to six months. That way I could work most closely with the community and best generate a working dialogue between the students, creating a relational process," she said, referring to the mural-making style she described during last month's "What Does Democracy Look Like?" event.

Baca is well-known in the artistic community for her role in creating the Social and Public Art Resource Center, which works with young adults on collaborative mural projects. Traditionally, Baca's works have been culturally and historically motivated.

Among Baca's most notable projects is the so-called "Great Wall" in Los Angeles, a mile-long timeline mural chronicling the city's history from the native people who originally inhabited the area to the McCarthy hearings of the 1950s.

Since Mexican artist Jose Clemente Orozco painted his famous mural "The Epic of America" in Baker Library's Reserve Corridor in 1934, Dartmouth has had a tradition of murals in public places.

English Professor Ivy Schweitzer said that the addition of a Baca mural to Berry Library would contribute to this legacy. Schweitzer was involved in initially spurring the idea to create the new mural.

The idea of adding to the tradition and enhancing the physical appearance of corridors of the new library that some have called bland is one of the prime motivations behind the mural proposal.

"The first time I stepped into the Berry Library and walked up those gray stairs, I thought, 'This is a really dreary place,'" Schweitzer said. "I knew we needed artwork to liven the place up."

Schweitzer met Baca for the first time this term and realized Baca would be the perfect artist to carry out the project. "When she came here, we all said it would be wonderful if she would do a mural," Schweitzer said. "If she headed the project, it would be a complete group effort. If anybody could envision and organize a community project where people would feel connected, it's Judy Baca."

Baca cited the large gray wall next to the stairwell leading from Novack Cafe to the circulation desk as one possible location for a mural.

Schweitzer advocated the creation of a committee to examine design proposals for the mural from students and faculty so that it would suit the tastes of as many people as possible and be a fully collaborative process.

"Public art is inherently provocative, but that's a good thing," Schweitzer said, emphasizing the significance of public art on college campuses. "I think institutions should take those kind of risks. What Baca could create is something that has the potential to represent a lot of the issues that Dartmouth of the 21st century wants to stand for."