Dining hall mural a feast for the eyes

Publication Date

A new view of Schenectady is being served up in West Dining Hall, thanks to an active group of students who are part of the art club known as Side Project.

Formed last fall by Andrea (Andy) Mullen ’24, a visual arts major and biomedical engineering minor from Albany, and Samuel (Sam) Crowley ’24 of Washington, D.C., a visual arts major with a minor in mechanical engineering, the club has hosted numerous activities, including painting sessions, a discussion about artificial intelligence’s impact on art, and a trip to a local gallery.

Its biggest undertaking has been the creation of the Schenectady-themed mural. The idea was to help first years who eat at the dining facility on the first floor of West College get to know their new city a little better, and at 13 by 5.5 foot, the painting is not to be missed.

“We wanted to take on an ambitious project that would leave a visible mark on campus and challenge us as collaborators and artists,” Mullen noted. “We wanted every step of the process to be collaborative, from design to planning to execution. We had a number of design nights where we brainstormed ideas, agreed collectively on which elements to include and sketched out an initial design.”

The group’s event coordinator is Bea Ogden ’24 of Lancaster, Mass., who worked with Mullen and Crowley on overall mural coordination. Ogden is a French major with psychology and chemistry minors. Crowley, who has a deep interest in visual storytelling, also does freelance graphic design and photography.

Most club members, however, are not art majors. The mural painting sessions were advertised on UEngage, opening participation to anyone, with or without art experience.

The project’s first phase entailed projecting a Google Earth image on the dining hall wall, from which the students sketched major landmarks, including downtown, the Stockade area, the Union campus and Mohawk Harbor. From there, they used reference images to detail the selected landmarks.

“We used six buckets of regular house paint: blue, green, black, white, red and yellow. This allowed us to easily mix any color we wanted,” Mullen said. “The final two weeks, we switched to Posca paint pens to fill in any gaps.”

They also improvised with some of their tools.

“Being conscious of waste and the price of materials, we were sure to reuse mixing plates and forks for stirring the paint,” Mullen said.

In all, some 20 students volunteered to be muralists. Working in small groups, they joined the painting sessions many Saturdays and occasional Friday nights throughout winter term.

“None of us had planned and directed the painting of a large-scale mural before. It was challenging at times to translate our sketch into a mural,” Mullen said.

Ezra Gollan ’26 of Brooklyn chronicled the group’s efforts through his photography. A political science major, Gollan is an active freelance photographer.

With only a few finishing touches to be added to the mural, Side Project is already making plans for spring term, including a trip to MASS MoCA, a converted factory complex in North Adams, Mass., that is one of the nation’s largest contemporary art museums.

With or without a background or experience in art, all students are welcome to join in.