The beginning of murals in the tunnels

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Prisca Edwards

Murals like this one cover the walls of the tunnels today.

The article on the tunnel painting underneath the residence halls was most interesting, but the genesis of those murals goes back to May 1970, following the Kent State shootings.

My wife at that time was Assistant Director of Residence Halls and we lived in a first-floor apartment on the north end of Kate Gleason Hall. Students regularly congregated in our living room and were naturally highly agitated following the events at Kent State.

When some fine arts students were expressing a need to find an outlet for their art in response to the situation, I borrowed an idea I had seen at the University of Rochester where a dismal tunnel under the main quad had all sorts of interesting artwork in it. I suggested they do the same in the tunnels beneath Kate Gleason and Nathaniel Rochester halls.

The next morning, several amazing “unauthorized” murals appeared. Some residence life officials felt this was vandalism and that my wife and I were probably behind it, but since I had just recently been elected chairperson of the Faculty Senate, they went directly to President Paul Miller with their objections.

Dr. Miller came over personally to view the artwork, declared it wonderful and that it would remain untouched.

Over the years the murals expanded to other areas and became increasingly wild; finally, around 1980 it was determined that some regulation and approval process needed to be established. The existing murals were all painted over with white paint, and this is the point where your story begins.

Stan McKenzie Provost Emeritus, Professor Emeritus

Your article on murals in the tunnels states “The genesis of painting murals in the tunnels began in 1980.”

To help with school costs, I worked in “The Cellar” for the first two years it operated under the dorms. There were numerous murals decorating the walls, some appearing magically overnight, while others were created over several days.

Observing the creativity of my fellow students always left me with a sense of awe and is one of the things I remember most about my time at RIT.

Jim Allen ’72 (GAP)

I liked your article, “Tunnels tell stories of the times,” but there’s a slight correction that you’ll have no way of showing.

When I was studying photo science back between 1969 and 1973, many of the art students would go to the tunnels under the dorms and paint huge murals on the walls. At the time, students were doing vast amounts of illicit drugs and you can only imagine the wondrous, colorful, bizarre art that flourished there. 

Unfortunately, it was all whitewashed years later to provide the “gesso” of the art that is presented in the fall issue.

The stories under those demure paintings would shock you. We were shutting the campus down in a nationwide effort to stop the Vietnam War, which I wish you were doing now in regard to Obama’s continued wars. Many of our friends were dying, and flunking out of school meant near certain front-line death for men like me with low numbers in the draft lottery. 

Read Stephen King’s book, Hearts in Atlantis, if you’d like to learn more about those times; very scary and exhilarating at the same time.

Gary Lowe ’73 (photo science)

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