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Photo of art installation

McHenry Library's spiral staircase has a new look, thanks to the efforts of students in a Public Art 1 class. Photos: Scott Campbell

January 15, 2007

Students create stairway art installation at McHenry Library

By Scott Rappaport

Students in Dee Hibbert-Jones’s Public Art 1 class have created a permanent art installation to replace the net railing that has lined the spiral staircase at McHenry Library for more than a decade.

Photo of inscriptionMany of the panels are inscribed with literary or philosophical quotations.

The students proposed, designed, and installed an image of a cherry tree on 550 Plexiglas railing panels that climb from the basement to the top floor. Many of the panels are inscribed with literary or philosophical quotations that relate to the specific subject matter contained on each library floor.

The project was initiated last fall when University Librarian Virginia Steel asked Hibbert-Jones if she could work with her public art class to improve upon the net railing.

Since the long-standing black plastic webbing had originally been installed to help meet safety codes, the class met with UCSC’s code compliance officer to ensure the art project would meet all current building code requirements.

Each of the 18 students in the class then drew up models and proposals, five of which were presented to the library. Two of the proposals were ultimately chosen and combined, with the goal of integrating artistic images of cherry blossoms within solid Plexiglas panels.

Hibbert-Jones observed that the project was a massive undertaking for a lower-division class. “We spent all of finals week and the week after in December installing it; it was a huge commitment from the students,” she said. “It’s really exciting for the students to do an installation on campus in their own community, and it’s interesting to notice how many people stop to read the quotations that the students chose.”

Head of Library Operations Eric Baker noted that the class was extremely creative and industrious in taking on such a large undertaking within the span of one quarter. “Not only have we received many compliments on the aesthetic improvement, the students received a lot of valuable hands-on experience as to what is involved in public art installations,” he said. “It was a win-win solution.”

Hibbert-Jones was hired three years ago by UCSC’s Arts Division to design the public art program within the Art Department. The library project is just the latest project that she has undertaken with students in her public art classes.

Other public installations she has supervised include constructing a mosaic bench at every elementary school in the city of Santa Cruz; creating a 150-foot steel art piece made of recycled materials at the Santa Cruz city landfill; and working with at-risk youth through a collaboration between UCSC’s student organization Blind Mind and the Walnut Avenue Women’s Center to build a giant puppet for a parade,

In addition, she supervised creating two 75-foot-long murals with 250 elementary schoolchildren at San Lorenzo Valley Elementary School and building a 171-foot-long installation in San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park to create brush for wildlife to live in and  prevent trailblazing through the park.

“Public art is important for the building of community and promoting understanding between different groups of people that might not necessarily have contact with each other,” observed Hibbert-Jones. “For example, elementary schoolchildren get the opportunity to work with university students and vice versa—the schoolchildren get a chance to see what the university students are doing. It’s about forging relationships.”

“Public art classes usually require a lot more work and time commitment than an ordinary class,” Hibbert-Jones added. “But they provide the chance to actually see art in the service of something. And they require students to work collaboratively, which is difficult for all of us, but a real growing experience for everyone involved.”

Students in the class project included Rosika Babakhanian, Cooper Berkmoyer, Amanda Hopkins, Zachary Kirshner, Andrea Kopp, Kara Lam, Victoria Lee, Andrea Martinez, Caethan Mingst-Belcher, David Reisine, David Rose, Andrea Rosebush-Dicenzo, Jillian Schwab, Jordan Tynes, Joel Velasco, Wing Wong, plus teaching assistants Rahshan Williams and Evan Siegesmund. Consultation was provided by Christine Bunting, head of Special Collections.


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