Art We Won’t Forget

Friday, Jan. 4, 2013 2:23 am | By Jakob Gowell '11

 

Directly in front of me as I sit in The Spencer Grill, four banners hang from the second- floor balcony. Eighteen feet tall and four feet wide, the banners are covered in pictures, hundreds of them. Volunteer students and staff hand-ironed the photos on with transfer paper, and the banners went up on Oct. 9. The next day, the student newspaper, the Scarlet & Black, published two articles describing the project. This is the end of the story.

It started last spring, when homophobic slurs were written outside a gay student’s door. Later, many GLBTQ students received malicious messages through campus mail. In response, students organized rallies on campus with participants banging pots and pans, and one student made a documentary on the situation. But in my opinion, the largest reaction was the pure volume of posters and flyers put up around campus in support of the gay community. They were everywhere: dorms, the campus center, and academic buildings. Many are still up today, but most are gone, as all posters disappear after a certain amount of time. I knew it was going to happen, and though I couldn’t stop it, there was something I could do.

I photographed them. With a camera and an afternoon, I went around most of campus taking a picture of each and every poster I could find. All told at the end of the day, I had about 230 pictures. Now I had a personal collection, a digital preservation of the campus’ support. At home months later, I went to the local photography store and developed a set of the prints — not a full set, because I didn’t have enough money on me, but maybe a hundred. When I got home, I cleared the dining room table and started to organize the pictures, quickly covering the entire table. It was cool, it was impressive, and it was only half of what it could be.

Fast-forward to the beginning of this school year. I asked around and was told to contact Elena Bernal ’94, special assistant to the president for diversity and achievement; I hoped to make this a campus-wide art project. I e-mailed her and started the long process of creating a general concept. Going in, I had a preconceived idea in my head of a display consisting of one print of each photo, which I calculated would cover about 23 square feet, given the dimensions of my prints. With Elena’s influence, and with ideas from Tilly Woodard, curator of academic and public outreach at the College’s Faulconer Gallery, it got bigger. Much bigger.

A date was set when students from all over campus could come and help if they wished, ironing and cutting out the pictures from the transfer paper. Volunteers completed much of the work. The date of unveiling was set for October 11 — Coming Out day during campus’ Pride Week. College staffers weren’t able to erect the artwork that Saturday, and Friday was too busy. So turns out, our work needed to be finished two days earlier than expected. And it was.

One of the final art pieces was a photo of a common poster that said, “Hate Free Grinnell,” in the same colors as Superman’s costume. Set on the sheer fabric of the banners, it ruffled in the breeze whenever someone opened the door. As I watch here in the grill, students sit mere inches from one of the banners, and a little while ago, someone grabbed it to get a better view.

This accomplishment is real, it is tangible, and it was possible because of the energy of the students who created the flyers, my commitment to preserve the message, and the administration’s support. To me, this says something wonderful about the community we have, and it says we actively work to maintain it.

Jakob Gowell '11 is an English major from McMinnville, Oregon.