Opportunities to be more diverse, equitable and inclusive as a university can be woven into so many of our professional and academic processes, including in some unexpected ways – even through our physical spaces.
When LMU President Timothy Law Snyder’s staff and student workers were asked to bring more inclusivity to their offices as part of campus-wide DEI initiatives, they took the charge seriously. They quickly homed in on overhauling the office entryway by adding artwork created by LMU’s talented students.
The goal was to not only showcase student work, but to create a friendlier and more welcoming environment for the many visitors that enter the suite. The art was selected to represent a cross section of LMU students, symbolic of the diversity of our campus community. As Nicole Hernandez ‘22, a student worker in the president’s office who participated in the project’s conception, said, “Each piece is so unique…just like students and faculty and staff here.”
“We think that we can contribute to the LMU Anti-Racism Project in a different and exciting way, due to the status and visibility of our spaces,” said Debbie Cavanagh, executive assistant to President Snyder. “One area we immediately targeted for improvement was our physical office space on the fourth floor of University Hall. We wanted to bring this incredible artwork to our most public of spaces, with the goal of elevating the work of our talented students and creating a more welcoming and inclusive visual experience for all our visitors.”
The project immediately felt impactful from many vantage points, not least of which that it demonstrates so many of President Snyder’s deeply held values: showcasing LMU’s talented students wherever possible, elevating new and young perspectives, and making our students feel valued and seen. The student artists hail from different backgrounds, and while many are studio arts majors, most are also pursuing double majors or minors in other disciplines like African American studies, theatre arts, psychology, English, as well as classics & archaeology, to name a few.
The unique perspectives and life experiences of the artists also bring contemporary societal issues and critical thinking to life through beautiful and expressive media and art forms including painting, photography, graphic design, and mixed media. The president’s team is considering the possibility of having the art rotate after a few years, to keep the perspectives fresh and to give more students this opportunity to showcase their work.
“When I see the art, I am reminded of how talented and diverse our students are,” said Hernandez. “For me, it’s a reminder of where I’m at, this incredible community I belong to, as well as some of the challenges people can express through the creative process. This project roots everything in the student experience, ties it back to the fact that everything we do in this office for the students, intended to enhance and improve their experience.”
The art was selected by the executive team with input from the student workers, along with close collaboration with dean of the College of Communication and Fine Arts, Bryant Keith Alexander. “The project as a whole also speaks to the power of art and artistic expression to communicate aspects of diverse human experiences; making embodied and lived experiences visibly accessible to others,” said Dean Alexander.
The team sought to replicate the display of student art in other areas of the president’s suite like the dining room and board room. Eleven paintings are displayed in the office suite entryway, from ten student artists. All pieces were featured as part of the Young Contemporaries Juried Student Art Competition in the Laband Art Gallery, which is open to all students on campus.
“It has been such an honor to be included as one of the artists highlighted in this project,” said Rena McInerney-Olk, ‘20 one of the featured student artists. “I am so happy that some of the amazing artwork the student body has created has been incorporated into President Snyder’s private and public spaces so they can be admired all year round – not just in the exhibition spaces. Creating more spaces across campus that celebrate the amazing and creative endeavors of our student body is such a great way to honor the incredible achievements of past, present, and future lions.”
The artists: Rebecca Briones, Skylar DeYoung, Dashiell Debley, Mallory Higgins, Susan Huang, Nicolas Mauthe, MaryAnne Murray, Rena McInerney-Olk, Svetlana Ovchinnikova, and Mei Vilanova