Finding Common Ground through Interactive Art

The Community Art Wall is strategically positioned along the construction wall between the Kemper Art Museum and Steinberg Hall so that passersby in this heavily trafficked area are confronted with the prompts and encouraged to respond. The interactive wall was inspired by a lecture given by artist Candy Chang. Lyle Hansen and Eve Wallack (pictured left) are the Sam Fox School students who catalyzed the project. Lyle is a third-year graduate student in the Masters of Architecture and Masters of Urban Design tracks, and Eve is a second-year undergraduate studying communication design. When asked about the project’s aims, they reflected on the intersection of private thoughts and public dialogue that the wall facilitates: “When private thoughts remain walled off or taboo, we struggle to find connection. By making these thoughts public, people are able to build off of a shared experience and form support for one another. Art as a medium for dialogue is a more creative and expressive way to interpret and express one’s emotions.”

The project involves a series of three prompts, planned by various student organizations, on polarizing topics in today’s culture:

  • The first wall was aimed at inspiring conversations about misconceptions and realizations about St. Louis through the prompt, “I heard St. Louis is … And to me, St. Louis is…”
  • Next, the Graduate Architecture Council used the wall to discuss biases through individuals’ experience of the city and to create a conversation to promote broader experiences and interactions with the whole of St. Louis. The prompt read, “The places you go, the things that you do, the people you meet, mark each one so we can see,” with a map of St. Louis painted below.
  • Finally, Women in Architecture and Design used the wall to create a space to talk about gender inclusion in design fields with the prompt, “I want to design in a world where… and I want my creative work to affect…”

Lyle and Eve explained that the goal of the various reinterpretations of the chalk wall was “to discuss issues around perception and experience and serve as a platform for open conversation on assumptions in contrast with reality.” They see art as a vital medium for community engagement. “Art presents an experience of the community as the varied individuals that we are,” they said. “The wall provides a space for all of us to share our personal beliefs and experiences without invalidating others. We think this creates the chance for greater understanding of the community where we work and study everyday here at WashU.” New iterations of the wall have been implemented across campus as other student groups are inspired by the idea. Lyle and Eve foresee a continuation of these reinterpretations of the community art wall. “Some more groups have reached out expressing interest in doing something similar next semester,” they shared. “We are always open to testing new ways of engagement.”

The project received funding from the Civic Engagement Fund through a Common Ground Grant. Lyle and Eve emphasized the wide range of projects that Common Ground Grants can be used to support. The grant seeks to foster a spirit of inquiry, build bridges, support civic and civil dialogue, and offer opportunities for reconciliation and learning across differences. The art wall has embodied this mission. Lyle and Eve shared that the grant helped expand the scope of the project from the Sam Fox School to “issues in and around St. Louis, inclusive of the whole WashU community.” When asked about their ultimate goal for the wall, Lyle and Eve said that they hoped to see “more reflection of how we are experiencing this city, how the city impacts our student experience, and how we can grow and support each other.”