A view of the Swirbul Library mural “Knowledge Is So Much Power” by Mehgan Geyer

There's something different about Swirbul Library: The wall at the entrance, outside the Innovation Center, has gone from blank to brilliant, displaying a stunning mural, courtesy of the Department of Art and Art History, specifically the Mural Arts Workshop class.

The process of finding the artist, selecting the design and installing the piece was collaborative, just like the library. Swirbul Library, a campus hub, is also home to the Innovation Center, the IT Help Desk, and the Learning and Writing Center.

Fortunately, Cara Lynch ’12, artist and adjunct professor, was teaching Mural Arts Workshop this spring. Lynch was a studio art major who created her first public art a couple of months after graduating, and several more since then.

Her syllabus was comprehensive, covering the art and business of creating public murals. “This is a class I’ve always wanted to teach,” Lynch said. “It’s been a really great experience and a wonderful opportunity to teach it.”

Offering practical tools as well as artistic vision

The idea was to give the nine students in the class “a toolbox to work with,” she said. “It was a combination of professional practices and thinking conceptually, and also hands-on work. From a practical point of view, this is something that these students will be able to use and take with them after Adelphi.”

After exploring the history of murals and public art, along with the design challenges, the class studied installation processes and techniques, including getting the images on the wall using, for example, stencils or projections. They learned about the commissioning process. They examined the site, a curved, cream-colored wall by the entrance to the Innovation Center. They met with the library mural committee—staff from the library, the Innovation Center, campus architect and the provost’s office—to discuss the RFP, or request for proposals, something public artists often encounter.

“The class asked us great questions,” said Kathy Bucalo, MS ’15, director of user engagement and administrative services for the library, who worked closely with Lynch and her students. “They asked us what our thinking was, and what we’d like to see. We had a lot of back-and-forth.”

The library committee had identified diversity, engagement and collaboration as the specific thematic criteria of the project, which the students used to create their designs and written proposals, spending several weeks revising them.

“We were amazed when they submitted their ideas,” Bucalo said. “There were so many great choices.”

The winning mural

The library committee chose a design by Mehgan Geyer, a junior majoring in art. Her “Knowledge Is So Much Power” is four large portraits of Adelphi students. The contour silhouettes are painted in black on top of a green background, a simple leaf garland connecting the faces and ending with the words “Knowledge Is Power.”

The short, strong quote captures the importance of her college experience, Geyer stated in her proposal. She honors the principles Adelphi celebrates and the role that the library and Innovation Center serve on campus by providing a space for students to share ideas and learn from one another. She shows the differences in facial features, structure and silhouettes while retaining authenticity by using people she knew personally as her models.

“I was very fortunate to grow up surrounded by so many different people of different cultures and backgrounds,” Geyer said. “And I feel like that has really shaped me as an artist and as a person. So I wanted to draw something that felt reminiscent of the people that I constantly saw around me.”

According to Lynch, Geyer’s mural gains power by reacting to the site.

“She specifically reacts to the history of the building, how it’s used by the Adelphi community, and brings all those things together in a design that is seamless and beautiful,” Lynch said. “Her mural makes everybody feel welcome. It also leads visitors into the space in a really interesting way. It activated this wall that was once bare. Aesthetically, it is a beautiful work.”

Geyer as the artistic boss

After some tweaks—the library committee asked for some changes to one of the portraits, for instance—the class installed the mural over a six-day period in late April.

The spirit of collaboration that had been present all semester continued through the creation process, Lynch said. The class learned how to install a mural professionally, not just creating the piece, but also how and when to bring in supplies, where to store them between workdays, and how to document the process. Even cleaning up at the end was part of the lesson. Throughout the process, Geyer was at the artistic helm.

“If there was a question about something, it went back to Mehgan,” Lynch said. “I was there guiding Mehgan, but she was really calling the shots as the artist.”

Lynch, too, was present and involved throughout the effort, as was adjunct faculty member Brittany Baldwin ’13 and Geyer’s classmates: Jennifer Coleman, Alisha Horne, Aliyah Martin, Kieran Pagano, Donna Rivera, Julia Sledge, Riley Wallace and Katherine Ward.

“During this whole process of creating the mural and editing it and going through changes, she’s been there every step of the way,” Geyer said about her Mural Arts professor. “Like immediately, as soon as I need her help. So it’s been really helpful to work with her.”

This is Geyer’s second mural and it’s definitely not her last, she said. “I would love to do something like that again. There’s something really exciting about having an idea that feels larger than life and then seeing it executed. It’s awesome.”

Geyer had tough competition from her classmates. Take a look at the concepts they submitted.

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