Benjamin Franklin Porter College is a weird place. B Dorm's ground floor is it's second. It's rumored that Porter was designed by the same fellow who designed San Quentin prison. Porter's Provost is a puppeteer (and bares a strange resemblance to Grover). And there's all sorts of strange murals in all sorts of places. Or at least there used to be.
This summer, Porter's A Dorm was "resealed," a word carefully chosen by Porter CAO Jean Marie Scott. Resealed essentially means repainted with a water-proof paint. It was simple enough. But strangeness abounds in weird places, and Porter College is definitely one of those places.
I was a member of the Porter Work Crew (PWC) for part of this summer. PWC is a team of 16 students who work on Porter College all summer. Duties typically include painting rooms, moving furniture and other random projects. Painting over murals has rarely been a task asked of PWC, and yet it was the work crew that painted over the murals this summer even though contractors were hired to paint the rest of A Dorm.
Steve Matson is the president of Northern Design, the contracting company that painted the rest of the building. He initially expressed surprise that the murals had been painted over because he had originally been told not to paint over them, though he couldn't remember who, exactly told him that. "Quite frankly, we look at murals as student artwork. We don't know what emotions are attached to them, so generally we don't even touch them," he said. Would the building have been okay without the murals being painted over? "That I can't answer. I really don't know specifically if (those portions of wall) had any leakage," he said. "There you might get me in hot water, you know. I do a lot of work up there and I don't wanna ... "
"It certainly couldn't hurt," he said.
It may not have hurt the buildings, but it did hurt in other ways. Just ask Alice Williams, who was The Porter College Student Activities Coordinator in 1985 when the murals originally went up. She said she "grimaced" when she heard the news. "I thought that roman numeral five one was absolutely beautiful," she said. Or ask Ivy Menard, this year's Porter Student Senate Chair, who said she was saddened by it. Or ask any of the students staring blankly at the newly blank walls.
"I was upset by it at first," said Menard, "and I went in and was like, `Jean Marie, what's going on? Are going to have an opportunity to do something else there?' And she didn't really have an answer for me."
Scott did have an answer for me.
"Basically, we're in the process right now of having all the facilities at Porter repainted and resealed," she said. Apparently it's a maintenance thing that just has to happen every ten years or so to keep the buildings from leaking. B Dorm is scheduled to be painted next summer and D Building and the Dining Hall the summer after. That means all of the murals at Porter will be painted over within the next two years. "My primary responsibility in the summertime ... is to make sure that certain things are done," Scott said. "Housing gave us the money to seal and paint the residential facilities and part of doing that is to make sure it's complete."
Scott said she consulted with Housing services and they "came to an agreement" that the buildings should be painted, murals and all. But David Cosby, Facilities Coordinator at Housing Services, said he never specifically discussed the murals with Scott. When I asked him why Scott had them painted over, he said, "she's the CAO, she can do that."
"The bottom line is ... it really is helpful for the long-term stability of the building to just get the whole thing done," Scott said.
"So it's done. What now? Scott and Menard would like to hold a mural painting contest. Scott even hinted that more mural spaces could be available along the first floor of A Dorm than were there previously. And if the Porter Senate agrees, Menard would like to offer senate money to artists who are selected to paint the new murals. As of press time, no formal plans were made, but both Menard and Scott seem to have made the mural painting contest a priority. However, Scott said that the new murals would be painted with the understanding that, "they're not going to last forever."
"In a way, I think it's sad, but in another way, I'm kind of happy because those were old, old murals and not very good ones," Menard said with a laugh. "And I think it's going to be nice to get something else up and let the new students have an opportunity to get involved."
Porter College is a weird place, but beneath the paint and the concrete there lies a beaurocratic machine that is more interested in water-proof paint than student artwork and it will only ask us students what we think after the damage is done. Maybe Porter's weirdness is only paint deep. Or maybe it's not as weird as I thought.
Jean Marie Scott kept her word. In May, ten brand-spanking-new murals will be painted by Porter College students on A Dorm. Even better, on April 22, 1995, Porter Provost Kathy Foley awarded me with a Porter College Service Award for "exceptional service to the Porter College community." She introduced me as a founding member of the Fish Rap (not quite true, but complimentary nonetheless), and publicly thanked me for "keeping Porter on it's toes." DMP