The Stony Brook University campus is ugly. Notoriously, Complex listicle-makingly ugly.
With the exception of the Charles B. Wang Center, most of the West Campus buildings look like they were built to weather a nuclear apocalypse. The oldest buildings at Stony Brook were constructed around the height of the Cold War; Harriman Hall even has an honest-to-God fallout shelter in the basement.
Point being, the university’s original planners didn’t exactly have campus aesthetics high up on their list of priorities when they built the place. Our school colors might as well be beige and brick brown.
The effects that building design can have on a person’s mental state are becoming more and more well documented. Tokyo and Glasgow, most notably, have seen reductions in crime and suicide rates in areas where the cities installed blue streetlights, and cubicle-style offices are notoriously dreary work environments. While a direct link between the lights and crime reductions is not fully established, the concepts they raise are worth considering.
At a school like Stony Brook, which its own students have rated a “meh” 3.3/5 for happiness on Rate My Professors, a little design change could go a long way in raising morale. I propose a simple solution: give student artists the chance to create some visible artwork around campus.
Let studio art majors paint some walls or put up some sculptures in otherwise bland areas. It’d be cheap and easy to paint a few murals — definitely less costly to finance than a full-blown “Far Beyond” program.
We tried this at my high school, where a few art students a year were given the chance to paint a piece on a blank wall somewhere in the building. In all fairness, most of the murals were awful, but even the ugly pieces were still preferable to bricks and sheetrock.
The change of scenery isn’t even the main benefit — what’s really important is the sense of ownership that change can bring. A painted wall became a class’s way of making a mark and claiming a little bit of institutional space for the student body. With our university cutting programs across all fields, there are disenfranchised students in several departments who could use a win, even if it’s just a spiritual victory.
Student-made art could be a way to beautify austere edifices across campus, like the area around the Staller Steps. They could also become the university’s way to honor revered figures. Imagine if Chávez and Tubman Hall were actually adorned by pieces honoring César Chávez and Harriet Tubman, or if we had a statue of Danni Kemp by the softball fields. The impact that sort of artwork would make could easily justify the costs of production.
And what about the student artists themselves? Creating a piece that stands the test of time before they’re out of college could go a long way in boosting a studio art major’s future work prospects. The resume value of having a 40-foot-tall mural in a central location at Long Island’s largest and highest-ranked public university cannot be minimized.
The university likes to pay lip service to the importance of the arts, but with just a little bit of effort, it could turn itself into a bona fide patron of student artwork and the student artists themselves. It’s definitely more cost-effective to finance a few murals than it is to knock down buildings.