After two weeks of painting, the latest installment of the student-created public art project – Life is a Groovy Opportunity – was finished right before the East Lansing Art Festival crowd brought thousands of people to the area. The colorful mural can now be seen adorning the north-facing exterior wall of the Division Street Garage (181 Division Street).
The mural is set to be developed and installed in segments over a five-year period through a partnership with the City of East Lansing and the Michigan State University Department of Art, Art History, and Design.
MSU Associate Professor of Studio Art Benjamin Duke spoke about the project, which is a collaboration between undergraduate and graduate students and recent alumni. The first section was painted in 2018, followed by a pause due to Covid-19, and now the second segment of the volunteer project is complete.
“As I was setting the project out initially, and naming it, I kind of envisioned a theme that has a blunt, positive affect. I really allowed the students to work together as a team to come up with whatever the next installment was going to look like,” Duke said.
“This year, each of the students provided imagery. One of the students, Joan Bambery, took all of the submitted images and began to put together a design, and consulted each of the artists individually. We also talked as a group and that’s how we came up with the final image. There were discussions throughout about the kind of potential meanings or what the images meant to the artists, and how that starts to impact the whole,” Duke told ELi.
One of the six participating artists, Mei Kiengsiri, joined fellow artists for painting on the Saturday before the East Lansing Art Festival and spent about 50 hours on site. Although Kiengsiri has done other murals before, most of her paintings are typically less than 6×6 feet.
“Painting on that large scale is very different,” she said. “All the details are blown up in scale and don’t take as much time. At the same time, there is just vastly more surface area to cover, which honestly took a lot of our time,” said Kiengsiri. “All in all, it’s not something I usually get to do everyday, but I thoroughly enjoyed this project and would love more opportunities like it.”
As for the themes, Kiengsiri wanted to bring in her unique visual culture from her home in Bangkok, Thailand, to the composition.
“I wanted to represent my people and tell them that ‘hey, our voices can be heard too. You know I’m here,’ while also telling the people who have lived here for a long time that we’re here with them, and would love to share our stories with them too,” she said.
Kiengsiri considers her real contributions to the project to be a symbol of inclusivity related to her own experiences in East Lansing. Her portrayal of Lake Lansing at the top right corner of the mural shows a connection to water.
“I love sitting on the dock and playing music in the summer evenings,” she said. “The poem composition at the center of the mural is also my contribution as a reflection of how I see the Red Cedar River and how it’s treated by the people here.”
Keeping with the inclusivity theme, Kiengsiri said other elements of the mural capture and reflect the diverse population and makeup of East Lansing.
“Aside from the large woman figure, you may notice that none of the other characters have a specific gender, race or age,” Kiengsiri pointed out.
While painting the cubes and pyramids on the bottom left, Kiengsiri said many passersby noted how they enjoyed those figures.
“I don’t think it matters who or what the audience think the little figures symbolize, as long as they know that they’re really all the same, despite their differences,” Kiengsiri said.